Lucky Number Slevin (2006) / Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, sexuality and language
Running Time: 109 min.

Cast: Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Lucy Liu, Stanley Tucci
Director: Paul McGuigan

Screenplay: Jason Smilovic
Review published March 1, 2006

I never thought I'd ever knock filmmakers for trying to be too clever, but Lucky Number Slevin is just a few twists too slick than it needed to be to deliver the goods.  When twenty minutes of expository scenes need to be tacked on in order to fill in necessary plot details of all we've seen before, it truly bogs down what should have been an otherwise exhilarating finale.  For good measure, a couple more crafty machinations are tacked on after these scenes, but by this time, you wish director McGuigan (Wicker Park, The Reckoning) and first-time screenwriter Smilovic would know to leave well enough alone.  Luckily for them, what does come before these scenes is well done, such that the entertainment value is sufficiently met to make Slevin a very worthwhile thriller for those that love the stylish cinematic maneuverings of a well-orchestrated confidence game.

Hartnett (Sin City, Hollywood Homicide) stars as the Slevin of the title, who becomes embroiled in a war of rival crime lords through a case of mistaken identity.  Crime lord #1, a man simply known as "The Boss", thinks Slevin's real identity is that of Nick Fisher, a loser of a gambler that owes him a good sum of money.  The Boss offers to wipe the slate clean in exchange for a hit on the son of the other crime lord known as The Rabbi (Kingsley, A Sound of Thunder), the man he feels is responsible for taking the life of his own son.  Slevin doesn't have much choice in the matter, so he consents, but complications begin to mount when a nosy cop named Brikowski (Tucci, Shall We Dance)  catches wind of something going down, while a more highly skilled gun for hire named Smith (Willis, Hostage) appears to be playing both sides of the proverbial fence for his own purposes.

Lucky Number Slevin starts off well, introducing its larger-than-life characters with comical sense of dialogue and violence that gives the film that Elmore Leonard vibe that Tarantino exploited so well.  Add a Hitchcockian mistaken identity plot, some appealing actors, and a keen sense of visual style, and this one appears well on its way to being one of the better nifty thrillers to come out in recent years.  There are a few mysteries along the way, such as the identity and fate of Nick Fisher, the involvement of Smith, and the motivations of the kingpins, although clearly, there is always an undercurrent of something more at play than we're allowed to see.

Without giving anything away, our suspicions do come to fruition, as we learn that shifting loyalties and subterfuge are in the mix, in a whirlwind turn-screw finale that pieces together the histories of every character, connecting them all in a way that brings everything to a head.  Truly, the crackerjack script by Jason Smilivic is built with intelligence, but somehow, the amount of overhead involved in trying to explain all of these very ambitious little turns isn't worth the amount of time and effort needed to keep it from being thoroughly confusing.  McGuigan rarely makes a misstep until he allows these final scenes to become bogged down by talking heads and constant flashbacks, where a stylish montage, a la The Usual Suspects, would have capped it all off quite nicely in only a fraction of the time. 

With such a quality troupe of actors, it's hard to go go wrong, and admittedly, there are good laughs and moments of genuine tension, making this a surprisingly effective little suspense vehicle for long stretches at a time.  If you can look past the overcooked deceptions in the plot, plenty is here to admire, making Lucky Number Slevin worth a serious look for a fun and suspenseful mystery with touch of tongue-in-cheek flair.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo