Mistaken identity is one of the most commonly used devices in the thriller genre. It allows our hero to be a normal guy pulled into a violent world with plenty of in built sources of conflict. As referenced in Lucky Number Slevin it was used by Hitchcock to great effect in North By Northwest. The plot device is as often used as the story told in flashback, memory loss or even gaining powers from lightening bolts. Reuse of plot devices doesn’t mean a film is unoriginal. It’s what you do with that device that matters. How does Lucky Number Slevin cope? Read on to find out…
In Lucky Number Slevin and man named, well, Slevin (Josh Hartnett) comes to New York to get away from his deteriorating life back home. He’s lost his job, his apartment has been condemned and he walked in on his girlfriend cheating on him. Upon arriving in New York things don’t get much better as he is mugged and his friend Nick, who he has planned to stay with has vanished. Before he knows it he has people dragging him off to meet their respective crime lords as apparently Nick owes them money and they think Slevin is Nick. Slevin has been asked to kill the son of a crime lord called The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) by his rival The Boss (Morgan Freeman). Naturally this is a bit of an issue for Slevin. Also he has to cope with having Lucy Liu living across the hall. So it’s not all bad. From here on wires get crossed, people get offed and Lucy still refuses to show us the goods… ahem.
Lucky Number Slevin is a very stylistically shot film. The director, Paul McGuigan, has a real eye for creating interesting shots that can easily be taken out of context and displayed as art. He clearly has a thing for perspectives, depth and straight lines. Even the chess pieces seen in this film are cubic. It at times gives the film a comic book framing feel as characters are placed perfectly within vertical lines or with angles leading your eyes to interesting elements. McGuigan is most known for directing the pretty damn good Gangster No.1 and is currently taking a reoccurring directorial role on BBC’s Sherlock series. He also directed Push which I understand is a little bit on the weak side of things.
He is given a jumping start on this film by a well written screenplay from Jason Smilovic. This is the only film he has scribed, working mostly in television on shows such as The Bionic Woman and My Own Worst Enemy. I think he needs to really consider getting full time film writing work. The script is tight, loaded with pop culture references that never feel too forced and it’s pacing is spot on. There is one issue with it though, and admittedly this could easily be because of the sheer number of films I watch. The film is so precisely plotted and it’s clues to the mysteries reveal so textbook that it errs a little too far into the side of predictability. A story that leaves you guessing until the last moment is really difficult to pull off requiring various amounts of misdirection and subterfuge to throw the audience off the scent. The trouble here is that you’ve likely come across similar stories before so instantly your investigatory instincts are second guessing what is to come. That said the reveals and twists are handled well and it all leads to a satisfying conclusion.
Bruce Willis is here too as a world class assassins named Mr Goodcat. He’s all cool, calm and collected showing up mostly as a figure pulling strings from behind the scenes, seemingly playing each side off against each over. He also manages to sport not only a wig but at one point a moustache too. Gotta love Bruce’s continued denial of his baldness and age. He’s pretty much going through the motions here as his character doesn’t require him to show a massive range of emotions. There is depth to Mr Goodcat though of which none is implicitly shoved in our collective faces. He’s the sort of character that plays his part and manages to stay enough of a mystery for us to want to know more.
One place this film does stumble is in it’s set up. Within the first 20 minutes we’ve had flashbacks, disconnected scenes to promote intrigue for later and a rather lengthy title sequence. It’s a little too much set up, especially the flashback that goes on a little too long and is revisited later in the film. It’s not that these sequences are bad, they just get in the way of us getting to the meat of the story. The rest of the film moves along at a fine pace though with no scenes out staying their welcome.
Overall the film is a tightly woven mystery thriller with a little flab at the start and a slightly predictable finish. Lucky number Slevin is top quality stuff though and certainly worth a viewing. No cast members really put on a special performance although Josh Hartnett does manage to display quite a range with his character here. He’s one of those actors that gets under-rated a little too much and is capable of a bit more than the sort of films he’s usually tied to. Hopefully Paul McGuigan will get more chances to direct films where he’s allowed to show off the sort of visual flare he does here. It’s stylish without being showy. So, Lucky Number Slevin, watch it or something.