Lucky Number Slevin
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Paul McGuigan
scr Jason Smilovic
with Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci, Michael Rubenfeld, Dorian Missick, Corey Stoll, Sam Jaeger, Victoria Fodor, Robert Forster
release UK 24.Feb.06,
US 7.Apr.06
06/US Capitol 1h55

Can I get dressed now? Hartnett and Freeman

liu willis kingsley

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Lucky Number Slevin Slick, stylish and enjoyably disorienting, this is one of those crime thrillers that feels a lot more complicated than it actually is, simply because the filmmakers withhold key information from us at every turn.

Slevin (Hartnett) arrives in New York to visit a friend who's nowhere to be seen. Mistaken for the missing guy, Slevin is dragged before two mobsters: the Boss (Freeman) and the Rabbi (Kingsley), who've been violently feuding for decades. Slevin's friend owes a lot of money to these guys, and the Boss offers him a way out if he kills the Rabbi's son (Rubenfeld). Meanwhile, a shady assassin (Willis) seems to be pulling a lot of unseen strings. And Slevin is falling for his friend's neighbour (Liu).

There's a lot more to it, of course, but it's faux twistiness, as if the filmmakers have run their story through a blender, leaving cutaways, flashbacks, incomplete clips, you get the idea. When the very last piece finally falls into place, the tale reveals its startling simplicity. The result is an odd mix--entertaining and never remotely dull, but also over-clever and alienating. We never really like the characters, and we never feel sympathy for Slevin's predicament.

Performances are very good. Hartnett holds the film together with steely haplessness and raw physicality (he's wearing just a towel for the entire first act). Liu's casting is a stroke of genius, livening up the thankless girlfriend role into something truly engaging--the film's one sympathetic character. Willis is cool and elusive, two of his best attitudes. And Freeman and Kingsley are terrific, even if Kingsley can't resist the opportunity to chomp on every bit of scenery within reach.

Where it gets in trouble, besides the general smugness of it all, is in the rather shocking attitude toward violence. People are killed left and right, in brutal ways, and yet most of these cold-blooded murders are justified in the name of vengeance. As if slaughtering 20 or 30 people will actually give you peace of mind! It's a disturbing fantasy that makes the overall film impossible to accept as mere mindless entertainment.

cert 18 themes, strong violence, language, sexuality 9.Jan.06

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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall