Lucky Number Slevin is a zippy fusion of Dashiell Hammett and Quentin Tarantino, an amped-up noir that fits nicely alongside 2006's other inventive gumshoe flick, director Rian Johnson's Brick. Rebounding from the intriguing, flawed Wicker Park, director Paul McGuigan reteams with Park star Josh Hartnett for Slevin, a film that delivers upon the promise of being a satisfyingly knotty thriller. Jason Smilovic's screenplay is a devilishly convoluted plot, teasing with detail but rewarding those who hang with it, delivering a subtly sobering emotional sucker punch – folding expertly back upon itself, the dizzying double-crosses and rapid-fire dialogue propel the story forward, barely clinging to the rails.
Hartnett stars as Slevin, a wise-ass schmuck in town to visit his friend Nick Fisher (Sam Jaeger) – unfortunately for Slevin, no sooner does he arrive in New York City than he's mugged, kidnapped by goons who work for the mysterious Boss (Morgan Freeman) and roped into an amateur investigation with Nick's neighbor Lindsay (Lucy Liu). Along the way, Slevin finds himself unwittingly embroiled in a simmering gang war between the Boss and the Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley), as well as dodging the murderous intentions of the lethal assassin Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis) and the penetrating questions of New York cop Brikowski (Stanley Tucci). The deeper Slevin goes into the underworld, the more he begins to realize about himself and how this supposed case of mistaken identity may help reveal his true self.
Doling out laughs as easily as he does gasps, McGuigan rarely pauses for breath, stuffing the screen with MacGuffins in this ersatz homage to The Usual Suspects – indeed, much of Lucky Number Slevin feels like a violent synthesis of the Nineties resurgence of crime films (thank you, Quentin). Add a dash of heightened reality – the two crime lords live in buildings across the street from each other, while each of their henchmen seem larger than life – and you've got one potent flick. It should be noted that McGuigan is no stranger to the underworld – his little-seen 2000 film Gangster No. 1 is one of the more overlooked genre efforts of the last few years, an unsettling calling card for Paul Bettany. Lucky Number Slevin isn't quite as grueling as Gangster, however, as McGuigan does punctuate the bloodshed with occasional moments of levity.
The assembled cast is dynamite – Hartnett is surprisingly solid as Slevin, deftly handling the lightning quick changes in tone and unexpected depth; Kingsley, Freeman, Liu, Willis and Tucci are all terrific in their roles, with Liu and Kingsley particularly standing out. In addition, Peter Sova's gleefully kinetic photography helps elevate this gritty tale told well. Lucky Number Slevin is a twisted, grimly funny slice of noir that builds to an emotionally satisfying climax, tipping its cap to Tarantino, Singer, Hitchcock, et al. – a bloody brilliant piece of work. The DVD
Lucky Number Slevin is presented with a pristine 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that makes Peter Sova's images pop off the screen – while there's the odd bit of visual trickery (soft focus, saturated colors), the film looks rock solid throughout. The Audio:
With a soundtrack every bit as frenetic as the visuals onscreen, this Dolby Digital 5.1 track delivers an immersive experience, flinging bullets, throwing punches and making sure dialogue is clean and clear. There's nothing to complain about here as Slevin sounds as good as it looks. A French Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included as are English and Spanish subtitles. The Extras:
There's not a wealth of supplemental material included here, but what's available is worth sifting through – a pair of commentaries (one with McGuigan flying solo and one with Hartnett, Liu and Smilovic) lead things off; McGuigan's laid-back style may have you fighting to keep your eyes open, but the director relays some nuts-and-bolts information, as well as his inspirations and thoughts on working with the cast. The Hartnett-Liu-Smilovic track is a little more lively, with the actors and screenwriter (seemingly recorded separately) keeping things light but do beware of heavy spoilers, as the trio blithely assumes you've seen the film before listening to them. Three deleted scenes, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and playable separately or together for an aggregate of 20 minutes, are here, along with an alternate ending – two of the three deleted scenes and the alternate ending feature optional McGuigan commentary. The 13-minute "Making 'Lucky Number Slevin'" featurette details precisely that, with the film's theatrical trailer completing the package. Final Thoughts:
Lucky Number Slevin is a twisted, grimly funny slice of noir that builds to an emotionally satisfying climax, tipping its cap to Tarantino, Singer, Hitchcock, et al. – a bloody brilliant piece of work. Highly recommended.
Portions of this review were reprinted from the Oklahoma Gazette.