"Lucky Number Slevin" manages to have enough style and panache to overcome the flaws. This is an exciting and engaging crime thriller--a stinging vodka martini, with a comedic lemon twist.
Lucky Number Slevin (2006, Blu-ray)
Directors: Paul McGuigan
Producers: Chris Roberts .... producer
Writers: Jason Smilovic
Features: * Commentaries * Featurette * Interview * Deleted Material * Alternate Ending * Trailer
Josh Hartnett ... Slevin Kelevra
Bruce Willis ... Mr. Goodkat
Lucy Liu ... Lindsey
Morgan Freeman ... The Boss
Ben Kingsley ... The Rabbi (as Sir Ben Kingsley)
Michael Rubenfeld ... Yitzchok
Peter Outerbridge ... Det. Dumbrowski
Stanley Tucci ... Det. Brikowski
Kevin Chamberlin ... Marty
Dorian Missick ... Elvis
Mykelti Williamson ... Sloe
Scott Gibson ... Max
Robert Forster ... Murphy
Sam Jaeger ... Nick Fisher
Lucky # Slevin Blu-ray Review
"Lucky Number Slevin" follows Slevin (Josh Hartnett), a cocky twenty-something whoís mistaken for a small-time criminal named Nick Fisher, who happens to owe a substantial debt to one of the citiesí top gangsters, The Boss (Morgan Freeman). When tasked with assassinating the son of The Bossís rival, The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), Slevin has no other choice but to accept the unwanted job. But caught in the mix is a nosy, mystery-loving girl, Lindsey (Lucy Liu) with whom Slevin falls for, and a deadly assassin with mysterious intentions (Bruce Willis, basically reprising his role from "The Jackal"). The Rabbi also gums up the show when he makes Slevin a counter offer. Slevin has only a few days to figure out how, or if, heíll pull off the job, save the girl and pay off Nick Fisherís sizable debts with The Rabbi and The Boss. A proverbial maze of twists, turns, thrills and chills ensue.
When "Lucky Number Slevin" was released in theaters a few years back, it was trounced by most mainstream critics, hailed as a cheap "Pulp Fiction" knock-off. Sometimes we critics can be hard on little films like "Lucky Number Slevin." Usually such hardness can be targeted at how the film was marketed. When I first saw previews for the film, I thought, "Thereís another ĎPulp Fictioní knock-off," and went about my life, forgetting to see the film, figuring Iíd eventually see it on home video.
Thankfully, "Lucky Number Slevin" is not another "Pulp Fiction" knock-off. It doesnít even bare a thematic resemblance to "Pulp Fiction" let alone a visual or contextual resemblance. The films share two common elements: a comic gangster scenario and Bruce Willis. Thatís it.
But the film was still loathed by critics and hailed as a "Pulp Fiction" knock-off even though it clearly isnít. The short answer to why this happened is that many critics often go into a film with a slanted and skewed opinion, prepped to have the film form into that mold, even if it doesnít. Iíve been to several movie screenings, with dozens of critics from all walks of life, be it magazine, online or newspaper, and Iíve seen it happen dozens of times. Iíve even been to screenings where critics go as far as to not pay attention to the film theyíre watching. On one occasion, a critic I sat near read a book throughout the filmís running time and had the audacity to proclaim the film as bad when I discussed it with him, and other critics, following the screening.
The same thing happened with "Hancock." There was an expectation set up by the filmís wayward advertising campaign and the film didnít match that expectation. Thusly, critics trounced an uneven, but very good movie.
Such is the case with "Lucky Number Slevin." Itís an uneven, but very good film. In fact, the film really only holds one major flaw: a drastic tonal shift. Itís necessary to convey the filmís shocking, but predictable, third act twist, but itís not likely to sit well with some audiences expecting the plucky comic nature of the first two acts to continue. The shift is akin to the tonal switch of the zombie-comedy "Return of the Living Dead." Roughly midway through that film, the tone shifts from a screwball spoof to a deadly serious horror thriller (with only shades of its former self woven into a few scenes). This very same thematic element is weaved in here and while it works with the story, it proves to be uneven.
The script, from Jason Smilovic (creator of the now-defunct show "My Own Worst Enemy") is well written, full of colorful comic characters and diabolical villains, but his twists leans towards the predictable, often setting themselves up far too early. The direction, from relative newcomer Paul McGuigan ("Wicker Park") is both stylish and snappy, with kitsch 60s-inspired set design and clever film noir-inspired cinematography.
Thankfully, the film is balanced by wonderfully complex, and light-hearted, performances from all the central players. Hartnett is really starting to show promise as an up-and-coming A-lister. Bruce Willis is his usual cool self, so is Kingsley and Freeman. Lucy Liu is bright and cheery, providing the filmís heart and spirit, and the zesty comedic core. The remaining supporting characters deliver knockout performances that rarely stink of staleness.
The critics who saw this one in theaters are wrong. While the twists and turns are somewhat predictable, and the film shifts tones too abruptly, "Lucky Number Slevin" manages to have enough style and panache to overcome the flaws. This is an exciting and engaging crime thriller--a stinging vodka martini, with a comedic lemon twist.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: A
Film Value: B-
Genius presents "Lucky Number Slevin" on Blu-ray in 2.35:1 widescreen, encoded in 1080p/AVC video on a BD50 dual-layer disc. The film boasts a vibrant, textured palette riddled with lush reds, greens, yellows and blues that prove quite striking to the eye. Fleshtones are spot-on, but black levels seem a tad darker than expected, often crushing depth and details during wider establishing shots.
The print itself is free of any intrusive grain or white specks and the encode is mostly pristine, with only a few minor hiccups marring the presentation. I noted some digital grain during darker sequences and the print also seemed to have undergone DNR in spots to remove real grain--the result of which is a softer looking picture. Overall this isnít the best presentation of the film available (the UK import boasts a sharper picture with more detail), but in the U.S., itíll have to do.
Genius delivers a well designed, if somewhat front-heavy Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix for fans to enjoy. This is a dialogue driven picture, which proved a surprise given the filmís action-packed advertising promotion. Thankfully, dialogue comes through clean and crisp--never deterred or distracted by intrusive surround elements. Discrete effects are well balanced and mixed throughout the front and rear surrounds, though the presentation lacks a certain three-dimensional pop.
The filmís score is wonderfully balanced throughout, driving the "film noir" spirit into the picture with great ease. Bass effects are aggressive and stable, never interfering with the presentation, but adding zest when needed. This isnít the finest track out there, but itís a very solid effort.
Genius ports over the same special features found on the HD DVD and DVD release of the film.
ē Commentaries -- Two commentaries are provided. The first is from director Paul McGuigan while the second is from the cast ( Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu). Writer Jason Smilovic is also edited into this commentary. Both commentaries prove quite extraordinary. Hartnett and Liu prove to be consummate professionals, always humble about the acting and shooting process. McGuigan is no different, painting an unglamorous look at making a high-concept, low-budget project. Itís both fascinating and wholly engaging. Fans should definitely give both of these a spin.
ē Deleted Material (HD) -- Nearly 22 minutes of deleted/extended scenes add some insight to the picture, providing key characters with a fascinating amount of depth not seen in the final cut. The alternate ending, however, is a disappointment and would have shifted to tone even further into the dark--ruining the emotional poignancy of the story.
ē Featurette (SD) -- A quick making-of featurette is provided, but itís pretty standard stuff with very little insight into the production itself.
ē Trailer (HD)
ē Interview (HD) -- Genius provides an exclusive interview with Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu that proves to be rather fascinating. Again, both of these actors provide a wealth of behind-the-scenes trivia and info and have a great report with one another.
The disc is packed in the usual ĎEliteí Blu-ray case. Design is classy and in keeping with Geniusí other titles.
"Lucky Number Slevin" is an exciting crime thriller, pointed with comedic notes, that rarely disappoints, even with itís flaws in tow. The Blu-ray disc sports a decent transfer and well designed audio. Unfortunately, fans only get a small inside peek into the production itself through the insightful but underwhelming special features. This disc could have used a better special edition with a retooled transfer. Thereís always a double-dip, right?
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: D+
Recommendation: Well worth renting. Fans should own this disc (or the import).
On Blu-ray: November 18, 2008.
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----R. L. Shaffer