Director: Paul McGuigan
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis, Lucy Lui, Ben Kingley, Stanley Tucci
Running Time: 109 min.
***1/2 (out of ****)
I wasn't expecting much going into the unfortunately titled Lucky Number Slevin. In fact, I didn't really have any interest in seeing it at all despite numerous recommendations. But I'm glad I did. The movie starts as as a whip-smart crime thriller but then somewhere along the way turns into an astonishing tale of redemption and revenge. It takes an ordinary story and makes it extraordinary, which is what the best films are supposed to do. It also has the best twist ending in a crime movie since The Usual Suspects in 1995.
Slevin (Josh Hartnett) has a bit of a problem. He walked in on his girlfriend cheating on him, got mugged and had his nose broken. When he goes to crash at his friend Nick's pad in New York City, Nick's nowhere to be found. What he does find is a perky next door neighbor Lindsey (an adorably quirky Lucy Liu) and two thugs who think he's Nick. Before long we realize Nick was knee deep in some serious shit with two feuding mob bosses: "The Boss" (Morgan Freeman) and "The Rabbi" (Ben Kingley). The film turns Hitchcockian in that it becomes a case of mistaken identity, but Slevin almost all but gives up in attempting to convince these guys he's not Nick. It ain't gonna work. To make matters worse he's being trailed by an infamous assassin named Goodkat (Bruce Willis), who's motives we're not sure about right until the end. With Lindsey's help they attempt to uncover the mystery.
It seems like I've described a gritty crime drama, when in fact the movie's really a black comedy with sly humor and quick, witty dialogue. You really have to pay attention as things move very, very fast. The plot is complicated and intricate with many twists and turns, but never impossible to follow.
This is the first time Josh Hartnett has really been asked to completely carry a film on his shoulders and he does it with breezy confidence in a surprising performance. It also says a lot that he has no problem holding his own with screen legends Freeman and Kingsley, who are in top form. Lucy Lui's character, for all intents and purposes, should be a throwaway role but it isn't. She's a key player in his situation and it's a tribute to the script and her performance that that's never forgotten, even at the very end. The movie cheats a little, deliberating withholding information from us at times, but it's understandable and worth it once we get to the final pay off which does hold up upon repeated viewings and rewards us for paying close attention to every detail.
The movie begins in an empty airport terminal with Bruce Willis' character in a wheelchair telling an urban legend about a horse and a gambling debt to a total stranger. How the movie goes from that to where it ends up, and how it does it, is nothing short of brilliant. Writer Jason Smilovic and Director Paul McGiugan (who previously directed Hartnett in Wicker Park) have done what seems like the impossible. In today's movie world, where every crime movie seems like nothing more than a Tarantino knock-off, they've made an original crime movie that's fresh, smart and exciting. That alone makes Lucky Number Slevin worth everyone's time.