I cannot recall, in recent memory, a film comparable to Lucky Number Slevin. It does not pander or speak down to its audience, and it causes you to question every character’s motivations, and especially, every word they say. There is no clear-cut good guy-bad guy dynamic. In fact, if such a dynamic were to be portrayed as black and white, then this film would be all about shades of gray.
A misunderstanding of mistaken identity lands Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) in the center of a tumultuous gang war between rival mob leaders: the Boss (Morgan Freeman), who heads an African-American sect, and the Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), who leads the Jewish. To erase ‘his’ debt to the Boss, he is ordered to kill the Rabbi’s son, the Fairy. Meanwhile, he ‘owes’ the Rabbi $33,000, with of course no way to pay it back. Adding fuel to the fire is an assassin working both sides, Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis) and a nosy detective (Stanley Tucci) hounding Slevin for information. His sole ally lies in the quirky girl-next-door, who so happens to be the city’s coroner, Lindsey, played with energetic perfection by Lucy Liu.
Further detail would spoil just a few sleight of hand card tricks this film enjoys dealing. Lucky Number Slevin is in many ways comparable to a wry magician. Just as you believe you know where the story is going, who’s going to do what to whom, you find you've been fooled once more. It twists and turns on you, shoves you into a new direction, leaves you disoriented, and just when you think you've found your footing, the rug is pulled out, and you’re cast adrift once more. However, you are never teased or cheated with information, which is a credit to the great script and pacing.
Director Paul McGuigan keeps the narrative moving at a brisk speed with its liberal use of flashbacks but never is out of place. Jump cuts and carefully timed smooth transitions help ease the movement of one scene to the next, and the editing is one of many great things to enjoy. A round of applause certainly has to be given to Jason Smilovic for such verbose dialogue and natural wit, with random trivia thrown in for good measure.
It all works seamlessly, neither the editing, score, nor script overpowering one other. The set design and choreography blend seamlessly with the above elements, adding unspoken depth to the characters. All combined you have a word that’s similar to our own, but not quite; this is a film that seduces all senses simultaneously, always distracting your gaze; a perfect Kansas City Shuffle.
Neither does the dream cast disappoint. A scene between Freeman and Kingsley in the third act is, by itself, worth the price of a rental alone. Morgan Freeman is familiar in his role of the dignified and charming Boss, but there lies a quiet vicious streak within his gaze, a cool cunning. He would as much enjoy playing a round of chess with you, as he would kill you. Ben Kingsley’s unique way of speaking, along with the Jekyll-Hyde complex of a rabbi being a gangster and vice versa, is a pleasure to watch. Josh Hartnett, who spends the initial thirty minutes in a towel, is believable in his role as the innocent caught unluckily in the gnashing jaws of fate (and of course, nothing is more amusing than a pink and flowery towel amidst such serious situations). Bruce Willis and Stanley Tucci disappear in their roles which serves the film well.
To compliment such a unique film, MGM has provided a healthy supply of extras on the dvd. Starting out we have two commentaries. The first is provided solely by director Paul McGuigan, whose fast and quiet Scottish accent is a tad difficult to understand at times. If one has patience for it, and I certainly do (being the geek that I am), then they will find a plethora of information discussed. Aside from the usual difficulties of shooting, he talks about the wallpaper used, tone, actors, story, etc.
The second commentary is also quiet, this time with stars Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu, with writer Jason Smilovic edited in later (he admits to this, which is a nice touch). Josh and Lucy seem uncomfortable with the commentary, and surprisingly shy. They tend to talk over one another and narrate on-screen happenings. In contrast to that is Smilovic’s sections, who is energetic and enthusiastic and seems all too happy to discuss how the project came about, his feelings about the film, and his writing process. Personally, I would’ve preferred a track soley with the writer.
There are four deleted scenes, though only one is truly deleted while the others are merely extended. The standout gems are extended time with the Boss and the Rabbi together, and another one with Slo and Elvis, two of the Boss’s pick-up guys, having an argument over who should do the talking. A fluff piece about the making of the film, featuring the usual juxtaposition of talking heads, behind the scenes footage, and actual film footage runs close to 13:30 and the film’s trailer round out the extras. Overall, very well put together.
Sadly, Lucky Number Slevin seems to have largely slipped under everyone’s radar, including my own until I rented it purely on a whim of boredom. That truly is a shame. Everything one could desire in a movie is present and accounted for, and here’s hoping it finally gets its much-deserved attention.