One of the best films of 2006 is “Lucky Number Slevin.” I feel as if I could end my review of this wonderful little film and know the world would take my word for it. I’d be wrong and I’m sure most people would not fully enjoy reading a review that is simply eleven words long. I really do feel this was one of the best films released theatrically last year. I am now ashamed that I did not try harder to see it on the big screen. I had intention to, but never quite made it. The film did not have the strongest legs and only secured twenty two and a half million dollars in domestic receipts. Some critics loved it. Other critics loathed it. The infamous Tomatometer was nearly even on those that rated it fresh and those that decried rotten. Therefore, I know it is simply my opinion that this film was as good as I consider it to be, but as far as I’m concerned, my opinion is the one that is most important to me. Hopefully, more than the 51% of those scoring the Tomatometer will agree with me.
This little picture from the Weinstein Company was jam packed with bankable names. Bruce Willis. Morgan Freeman. Sir Ben Kingsley. Josh Hartnett. Lucy Liu. That is quite a cast for a movie that flew under many people’s radar. Director Paul McGuigan had previously directed Hartnett in “Wicker Park,” but aside from that picture, had very little visibility or experience in Hollywoodland. But with the acting talent attached and a very good story, “Lucky Number Slevin” was one of the best films of its genre that I have seen since “The Unusual Suspects.” There were plot twists and although everything was apparently not as it seemed, there was enough not revealed until the end to keep you guessing as to what was happening. When one plot twist was revealed, there was another waiting in the wings. The story kept you guessing as to what would happen next and it kept you interested in what was happening as the story unfolded.
Slevin (Josh Hartnett) finds himself having a very bad day. He has been mugged, found his girlfriend having sex with another man and has woken up in a friend’s apartment, only to find his friend missing. A neighbor, Lindsey (Lucy Liu) barges in and finds him in just a towel and wants to borrow a cup of sugar. Lindsey sees everything as a big mystery, but Slevin’s bad day is about to get worse. Two thugs, Slo (Mykelti Williamson) and Elvis (Dorian Missick) come to collect Slevin for a man simply known as The Boss (Morgan Freeman). The Boss is looking for Slevin’s friend, Nick Fisher (Sam Jaegar) and with Nick missing and with Slevin not having a wallet, he must take Nick’s place on his forced trip to see The Boss. The meeting details that The Boss has recently had his son gunned down by a rival and wants Slevin to either pay a large sum of money that Nick owes or to put a hit on the rival’s gay son.
If his day wasn’t bad enough, the rival sends thugs looking for Nick and taking Slevin away in his place. Nick apparently owes money to the rival, a man called The Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley) and Slevin has a short amount of time to get the money together. When Slevin returns to the apartment, he finds Lindsey very willing to help solve the mystery of Nick’s disappearance, though Slevin is reluctant to tell her about the visits to The Boss and The Rabbi. Looming large in the story’s background is a professional assassin known simply as Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis). He appears to be playing both sides of the crime boss rivalry and has set up Nick to be the go between to settle some business with one side or the other. Poor Slevin has had a bad day and now finds himself caught in the fight between the two vicious crime lords and Mr. Goodkat is pulling the marionette strings.
Josh Hartnett portrays Slevin as a likeable smartass. His mouth constantly gets him in trouble, but he seems like a genuinely good guy. Lucy Liu plays against her stereotype and is no longer the kickass martial artist, but a very cute and bubbly mortician who is very much the kind of girl you want to take home for your mother to meet. The two make a cute couple on-screen and it is easy to find yourself rooting that they will end up together and that Slevin can get out of his multitude of dire situations. Kingsley and Freeman are not two people who you typically would think of as crime bosses. Still, they are such fine actors, that their quirky roles see valid. Freeman is just so charismatic, that he can play just about any role and be incredible. Kingsley has fallen a bit since the days of “Ghandi.” He was in “Species” and a few other clunkers, but he makes a good Rabbi who also happens to be head of a crime syndicate. Bruce Willis is in a role that fits him as well as a finely tailored suit. How many times has he played a hitman? It doesn’t matter, because he can keep doing it and I’ll keep watching.
The story is meant to twist and contort the facts and the plot in order to confuse the audience. It makes no attempt to play it straight and just surprise you in the end, as “The Usual Suspects” did. From the moment you see Bruce Willis appear behind both Sir Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman, you know there is something fishy. Then, the opening scene starts to feel more and more out of place and you start to become fully aware that the events that unfolded there will come back during the end of the film. Still, you are left guessing as to what will happen. You want to see Slevin pull through and get the gorgeous Asian girl. You want to see the vicious killer get his comeuppance. It is hard to root against either The Boss or the Rabbi, but their respective henchman leave you wanting the two bosses dead for employing such morons. This is a fun film with a clever story and it keeps you guessing. Some big names are dropped during the credits and Lucy Liu is especially good in a role that is a stretch from those typically associated with the actress. I really do think this was one of the better films of last year. Value my opinion if you will, but remember that I place “Clerks II” in the same list. My tastes are sometimes a bit out of the ordinary.
First and foremost, I have a question for Director Paul McGuigan and Director of Photography Peter Sova. What the hell were you thinking with those wallpaper patterns? Seriously. These are painful to look at and nobody in the real world would ever consider hanging such horrendous and foul patterns on their walls. Would they? These frighteningly wonderful patterns are handled mostly with car in the 2.35:1 AVC MPEG-4 transfer of “Lucky Number Slevin.” A few times, there is some shimmering and movement among their complicated patterns and contrasting colors of black and white. I would have been amazed if they were reproduced perfectly, but I would also not be shocked one bit if I found out the transfer was perfect and it was simply my eyes bugging out of my head in agony. I’m going to let you watch the movie to experience said patterns. They are unique and help give the film a very unique look.
Technically, “Lucky Number Slevin” is a fine transfer. Other than the very detailed and complex wallpaper patterns, I could hardly find a flaw in the image quality. Colors are vivid and cover the full spectrum of the rainbow. Contrast is spot on. The filmmakers strived to make this film look very good, but keep us off kilter with certain visuals (wallpaper). From the very early moments to the final sequence, “Lucky Number Slevin” was solid. Most of the scenes in the film take place in well lit areas or in outdoor locations, but when the screen does darken, shadow detail and black levels are solid. Blacks are also very strong in certain patterns, but I’ve now beaten that horse to death. Now, why would I mention a dead horse? Watch the movie and find out.
Sound for “Lucky Number Slevin” is a fine sounding film, though Genius Products did disappoint me slightly by not including a Dolby Digital TrueHD soundtrack. They have been doing so for other titles, but not this one. The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix for “Lucky Number Slevin” is a good one though. The musical score by J. Ralph is perfectly balanced with the rest of the soundtrack and helps drive the story. Much of the film is dialogue based, but when gunfire erupts or an explosion or two, the sound is deep and explosive. The rear surrounds come alive and the .1 LFE rumbles strongly. This is not a powerful or aggressive mix and for long periods of time, only the front three speakers have a job to do, but when the film calls for everybody to join in, all six channels sound superb. The sound, as was the case with the picture quality, is very clean and does more than justice for this little film. My only minor complaint was that the volume level seemed a slight bit low on vocals, which was nothing that a little juice didn’t correct on the volume control.
Genius Products has been doing a commendable job on including value added content to their releases. “Lucky Number Slevin” is no “Clerks II” when it comes to bonus materials, but the items provided are worth checking out. Two commentary tracks are provided. The feature commentary with director Paul McGuigan is heavy on information pertaining to the making of the picture and even a little insight is given into the wallpaper. McGuigan goes silent for a few lengthy periods and sits back to enjoy his film, but this is a good technical track. The feature commentary with actors Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu, and writer Jason Smilovic finds the two actors laughing and enjoying themselves, but also finds aspects of the story revealed. The writer and the actors were recorded in different sessions and edited together Criterion style. Genius pre-empts each commentary selection with a menu-based warning that they are not responsible for anything the actors may say. This was clever, but isn’t a screen at startup more than adequate?
Aside from the commentary tracks, about an hours worth of features and scenes are included. Making Lucky Number Slevin (13:18) is shown in 1080i widescreen and is a typical EPK talking-heads feature. This is a nice summary of the commentaries, but nothing new is provided here. It does detail the difficulties in bringing the story to life. An intimate conversation with Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu (14:27) is stated to be only available on HD. It was way too short, but thanks to this film and this feature, I’ve become a bigger fan of Lucy Liu. She is a real sweetheart. For being only available in HD, the picture quality was not all that stunning. A Theatrical Trailer is tossed in, but also a number of Deleted Scenes and an Alternate Ending. These scenes are provided with optional commentary by the director and can be selected individually or via a “Play All” choice. They run for over twenty minutes and some are hilarious and show you certain events that were trimmed from the theatrical release. I found that I liked the theatrical ending far more than the alternate ending. I won’t spoil the movie, but it was disappointing. The additional scenes with Bruce Willis should have been left in the film.
“Lucky Number Slevin” was a highly entertaining film. I remember seeing the cast and thinking the story looked great. Unfortunately, after not being able to attend a viewing with a good friend, I missed the boat and had to wait for the home video release. Watching the film on HD-DVD was a real treat, as this good story and great characters come to life in vivid high definition with a detailed and colorful picture. Sound is good, but this isn’t the kind of movie meant to annoy the neighbors or rattle a tooth filling loose. I loved the story and all of the little twists and turns it makes. Lucy Liu has won my heart with her performance. I never viewed her as the “Cute Girl Next Door” type, but she nailed it to a T. The rest of the cast is good and Josh Hartnett impressed. Bruce Willis plays such a great professional hitman. I didn’t expect the ending I received and one of the faux endings angered me, but the film played out as it should have in the end. “Lucky Number Slevin” is a film that has been missed by many and I think a lot of critics saw a different film. My opinions, but please do yourself a favor and find out on your own if you agree with me.