Dir. Paul McGuigan. US.2006. 104mins.
Anuncomfortable mixture of light banter and extreme violence, Lucky Number Slevinfalls somewhere between Guy Ritchie's Revolverand David Burke's still unreleased Edisonin its reliance on shock value over character development and narrativeheft. A likeable performance by Josh Hartnett carries the film for a long way,but a third act plot turn, while necessary to reach the conclusion, provides ajarring tonal shift that turns the likeable into the monstrous.
Audiences will be turned off by themechanical killer who heretofore has been goofily smirking through two-thirdsof the film. Word of mouth will suffer, with a knock-on effect on internationalprospects
Debut screenwriter Jason Smilovic shows panache in his establishing scenes, playingwith time and place as he unveils pieces of the coming jigsaw puzzle and beginsplanting questions in his audience's head about a fixed horse race, a murderedfamily, an underworld war and why is Bruce Willis in a wheelchair, telling astory about something called the Kansas City Shuffle to this guy (Sam Jaeger)who looks a bit like Josh Hartnett' Director McGuiganshows similar verve: lingering on an exposed neck and then just as swiftlysnapping it.
The main event begins as Josh Hartnett's Slevin admires and then re-sets his broken nose. He's inthe New York apartment of his friend Nick but Nick isn't there. "Nick's introuble," guesses Nick's cross-corridor neighbourLindsey (Liu), a wench who would flirt with a stop sign. Whatever trouble Nickis in, Slevin is in it too: when bad news comesknocking (twice), Slevin, as the only guy in Nick'sapartment, is Nick by default.
Two crime lords, the Boss (Freeman) and theRabbi (Kingsley) are at war, both need some killingdone, and Nick owes them a lot of money and they want Slevin- who they think is Nick - to do the killing for them. When Slevinleaves the scene, Willis - playing an assassin named MrGoodkat - steps out from behind a curtain and looksmenacingly in his wake.
A number of overt references toscreenwriting techniques - "the inciting incident" - and its cinematicforebears, particularly Hitchcock's NorthBy Northwest, serve only to remind the audiencehow far short of the mark Slevin falls interms of delivering excitement and tension. What it does deliver are corpses,on a veritable conveyor belt.
The irony is there may be a thriller inthis densely-plotted but ultimately pointless blood-bath. But Smilovic and director McGuigangive their audience no credit for intelligence. Rather they choose to lead bythe nose; viewers will be far ahead of the story and hence have the leisure toponder its many and varied plot holes and narrative failings.
In particular, the casting director hasdone too good a job in finding a child who passes convincingly as a Hartnett asa boy. Only minutes into the picture, the viewer knows that the child at thebeginning of the story will be back to avenge. Numerous flashbacks just addinsult to redundancy. A final switcheroo featuring Liu - she just happens to becoroner - and a blood squib is simply out of line.
In NorthBy Northwest, Cary Grant's snide ad executivegives up trying to explain he's not Mr. Caplan andbecomes Caplan. Hartnett's Slevinjust starts shooting people, some of them innocent. A smattering of homophobiafor homophobia's sake - rather than in the context of the story - makes onemurder particularly offensive.
The Weinstein Company