Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Sexuality and Language
Directed by: Paul McGuigan
Written by: Jason Smilovic
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley & Stanley Tucci
In the opening minutes of LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN (after a grisly montage of different people being taken out in violent ways), Bruce Willis explains what a Kansas City Shuffle is. He describes it as when everybody goes right and you go left. The entire plot of SLEVIN could be summed up that description. This ingenious and underrated crime thriller leads goes left where every other crime thriller goes right. It’s a constantly surprising and very well-written flick that needs a bigger following behind it. If there was any best Tarantino movie that Tarantino didn’t direct in the new millennium, this is it!
Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) is an unlucky young man who has found himself in quite the predicament. After losing his job, apartment and girlfriend, Slevin goes to visit his friend Nick Fisher in New York. Once there, his luck gets even worse as he’s mugged (wallet with ID and all is taken) and Nick is nowhere to be found. After making friends with a nosy neighbor (Lucy Liu), Slevin winds up in a classic case of mistaken identity. Nick owes money to two different mob bosses, The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), who live across a busy street from each other. Slevin is caught in between these crime lords and a brutish cop (Stanley Tucci) on his case. All the while a shady hitman named Goodkat (Bruce Willis) waits in the background to make his move. It’s a confusing plot to get down properly and things get even more complicated as the movie goes along, but the second half is where everything pays off in spades! This is an understated near masterpiece.
LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN is comparable to a Tarantino crime flick in any number of ways. Namely the dialogue which is sharp, fast, and full of wit. The colorful characters all have their special personalities. Even someone as basic as two thugs who are seen in three scenes, make their presence known with different quirks. Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley are fantastic as two rival crime bosses who have their own different sense of humor. Both are intimidating, especially Morgan Freeman, but their smartass attitudes make them a joy to watch. Bruce Willis also shines Goodkat, rarely glimpsed in the first half but making his presence well-known in the second.
The one thing that I would fault is the connection between Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu. A romance is kindled between the two and they aren’t exactly compelling as a couple. I’ll go as far as saying that Lucy Liu is the weakest part of this flick. Josh Hartnett is a smartass that kind get a little grating at points, but I completely dug his character by the end. Also, Stanley Tucci is underused as the main police officer on Slevin’s tail. Some viewers might find it a little hard to get through the seemingly convoluted nature of the first half, but things go from confusing to downright excellent and rewarding in the second half. This is a movie that turns into something you don’t expect it to. Keeping it vague, you won’t know what hit you.
LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN is a Kansas City Shuffle (you’ll know the origin of this term in the final seconds of the film). It’s one of the most underrated films that you’re bound to find. One of the best crime stories you’ve never heard of and if you have heard of this film, then you know exactly why its awesome and how it tricks the viewer in so many ways. There are tons of twists in LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN and I’ve kept things vague enough so you won’t guess exactly what’s coming. The second hour is one of the finest reveals that keeps pulling even more reveals as it goes along. Though the forced romance might keep things from being perfect, it’s damn near a masterpiece regardless. A bloody brilliant film that is the definition of a hidden gem. If you’re even remotely into gangster movies, then you must see this!