Lucky Number Slevin

4 stars


9th March 2006

An awful title can do a lot of damage to a film. I don't care how many awards it won, one of the main reasons I declined to see The Constant Gardener was because I didn't fancy seeing a film about a man who couldn't keep his hands off of his hoes. However, despite its criminally bad monicker, Paul McGuigan's Lucky Number Slevin has a lot going for it, notably a cast including Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley (he can sing for the 'Sir') and Bruce Willis among others, plus a snappy script and a screenplay that would make Guy Ritchie cream his britches.

Slevin (Hartnett) is having a bad day - he's already been mugged and had his nose broken, and no sooner has he made himself comfortable at his absent friend's house, he's been hauled in front of two rival gang lords before he can even slip out of his bathroom attire. Mistaken for his buddy Nick Fisher, Slevin's in hot water with the Boss (Freeman) and in deep shit with the Rabbi (Kingsley), with king-sized debts owed to both. Perhaps too embarrassed to reveal his own name, Slevin goes along with their wishes but attempts to play them off each other and save his own head, all the while trying to get into the pants of Nick's inquisitive next door neighbour Lindsey (Lucy Liu) and avoid questions from persuasive cop Brikowski (Stanley Tucci).

Hartnett is fast establishing himself as a graduate of Himbo High School (this is his second gold star after Sin City) and holds his own against legends like Freeman and Kingsley, giving his unlucky everyman a cocksure swagger that stays the right side of 'cock' and a world-weariness that betrays his years. Clinically unable to feel worried by the chaos that's collapsing around him, Slevin has a sharp wit and a sharper tongue, so no matter how many times his face is busted, it only endears you to him further. When the tone changes dramatically in the final reel and the heavy-duty plot developments are rolled out, hopefully you'll be so invested in the character, you won't care that the laughs have thinned out somewhat.

In a story that boasts more twists and turns than a drunken driving test, it's surprising that Lucky Number Slevin manages to keep its head. It works as both; a keen-edged knockabout comedy, thanks to Hartnett's boyish charm and his chemistry with a flirty Liu, and a hard-nosed thriller, thanks to McGuigan's fine heritage (Gangster No. 1 remains a post-Lock Stock genre highlight). Occasionally the script goes into freefall as characters banter needlessly - "You look like the guy who lives here" "Then you don't know what the guy who lives here looks like" etc. - but it's clever enough to not come across as pretentious and knows when to veer back to sensible territory. You might think there's one too many twists lobbed at you by the end - allegiances change, characters come back from the dead, identities are revealed - but it's all handled eloquently and unravels neatly and in a satisfying manner.

The only problem is that Lucky Number Slevin has been blessed with an over-abundance of talent but all involved haven't been given the elbow-room to really cut loose. Freeman and Kingsley flesh out their parts nicely (the rivalry is an interesting one, their respective gangs facing off as they do from either side of a Manhattan street) and spark off each other when they meet, but neither are really hitting top gear, nor are they required to. Bruce Willis can turn on his A-game when he needs to but his assured hitman needs little more than a trademark smouldering stare and an unflinching aim. Stanley Tucci and Danny Aiello have tiny roles with which to impress, which leaves only Lucy Liu to shine as the radiant girl-next-door, bouncing through scenes with a girlish glee not seen since the radioactive lunacy of Charlie's Angels (only without the wanky CGI).

With a devilish sense of humour, a healthy sense of self-awareness and an impressive range of quirky characters, Lucky Number Slevin is a tightly-plotted, sharply-scripted addition to the gangster genre and certainly has acting talent to spare. At times a little too eager to torment and confuse, it's nonetheless a picture that oozes confidence and charm and will have you wrapped round its little finger intently until its conclusion. Influenced by modern classics like The Usual Suspects and the Tarantino canon, it's overflowing with cool - just don't be put off by the title. Quite frankly, it's a wonder you got this far on this website at all.

More:  Action  Comedy  Hitmen
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