Lucky Number Slevin is a thriller with as many twists and turns as a mountain roadway and occasionally as many low clouds obscuring the journey. For the first hour nothing is as it seems. We’re immediately hit with four violent gang-style murders, which lets us know someone means serious business.
We meet Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) when he arrives in New York to stay with his friend Nick Fisher. Finding Fisher’s door open, Slevin goes in and that’s when his trouble begins. His first encounter is with Fisher’s neighbor, Lindsey (Lucy Liu) who can’t answer any of his questions about Fisher. Answering a knock on the door he thinks is Lindsey, Slevin is smashed against a wall, given a broken nose and whisked away by two thugs in a case of mistaken identity. Since Slevin was mugged when he got to New York, he has no wallet so he can’t prove he’s not Fisher.
Josh Harnett and Lucy Lui
Slevin is now in the middle of a turf war between two crime bosses – The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), and they both want a piece of his hide, or to extinguish it all together if he, (Fisher), can’t come up with the dough he owes them. Slevin meets both men in their lavish surroundings and tries to explain that they have the wrong man. They’re not buying it, and the ticking clock begins. Slevin realizes these guys didn’t get where they are by being nice guys and begins a tap dance through the next few days of his life.
At this point most men would have done whatever it takes to prove he’s not their culprit. But Slevin spins around his problem, which is somewhat annoying. Still, by now the intrigue has kicked in and we’re along for the ride.
Riding herd over Slevin are two shadows, assassin Goodkat (Bruce Willis) and Detective Brikowski (Stanley Tucci). The men have a connection that isn’t clear from the beginning. Both The Rabbi and The Boss hire Goodkat, and he assures each one he’ll handle the job if “Fisher” doesn’t come up with the money.
Willis is probably the coolest and most enigmatic character in the story. He wears that Bruce Willis face, the one that says I might be just the one to figure this out, or maybe I could really care less, and I have everyone bluffed. His dialogue, like most in the script, is sharp, quick and has the tone of a 1940s noir thriller.
“Goodkat’s the guy they bring in when things get too ugly, and he’ll take it over from there,” Harnett said about his co-star. “He doesn’t have any qualms about doing something most people would have a moral issue with, and that makes him frightening,”
Jason Smilovic makes his feature film debut as a screenwriter but was the creator and co-executive producer of ABC’s drama, Karen Sisco, and has completed a pilot for a new drama television series, Kidnapped, for NBC. Smilovic said this story started out completely different. “At first it was about an unlucky guy who came from a long line of unluckies. No matter how I tried to create a more apt response mechanism to what was going on, I couldn’t break his cool.”
Slevin is cool about the entire situation, too cool. The circumstances he’s in would have most men trying anything to get out of it. Yet he wonders around like his only threat is an eviction from the landlord. Hartnett plays the character a little too smug, which doesn’t help as well.
Slevin even has time for an affair with Lindsey, another character we’re never quite sure about where she’s coming from. Her job as a coroner is handy at times for both Slevin and Goodkat.
The inclusion of heavy weights such as Freeman and Kinglsey as characters add more interest in the story, and the scene where they’re tied up back to back is quite amusing. Smilovic explains the two characters’ complicated history: “These guys were best friends, they were partners who used to work together and they had a falling out over a power struggle, and the result was each man was sent to his respective tower of isolation to live until the other guy was gone, but twenty years later, they were both still shut-ins, essentially.”
Having an all-star cast and plot that moves like an injured bird in the sky presented a clear challenge for director Paul McGuigan, who handled the task very well.
Lucky Number Slevin tries to be more than it is, something between The Usual Suspects and Pulp Fiction. However, its excellent cast and terrific dialogue by Smilovic, keeps the pages turning and we’re always waiting for what’s around the bend that might explain what’s happening. The end does sum things up, but makes you want to see it again to catch all the clues. Or, mad that you watched it the first time.
Photo credits: Attila Dory/The Weinstein Company