Monday With Mildred: “Lucky Number Slevin”

Lucky Number Slevin movie poster

Lucky Number Slevin

Beginning with the opening credits it’s obvious you’re watching something a little different, which is a feeling you should get when watching a noir film.  This is one of those genres with fairly strict rules on how to tell the tale, like zombie movies and musicals. Certain notes must be hit, but a well done example will play with those notes and sometimes make them almost invisible.

Slevin begins with a series of creative and seemingly random hits by a very skilled assassin, each ending with an object being collected from the dead guy. We don’t know who the killer is, but it’s awfully entertaining to see the creativity even if we don’t know the whys and wherefores. Next we see Bruce Willis roll up in his wheelchair to a guy waiting in an eerily empty airport waiting area. It’s a photogenic and noirish setting in which to hear Willis tell a story to the stranger that is loaded with pathos and the kind of twistiness that a viewer expects from a noir.

Willis is only one of several big name actors during their prime. Josh Hartnett is the titular Slevin, who is crashing in a friend’s apartment in Gotham (feels like Gotham, anyway), when his day is crashed first by next door neighbor Lucy Liu, and then the henchmen for mob boss Morgan Freeman. They don’t even let him get dressed and Slevin spends the rest of the first part of the movie in a towel. Some of you may really love that, but I was surprised a bit by his non-muscular physique. Ben Kingsly is the opposing mob boss that Slevin finds himself stuck between. There are several catchy and humorous supporting characters.

If you enjoy noir films, and I do very much, you will appreciate that all the boxes are checked. The POV storytelling is classic stories stacked on storied, and the dialogue is snappy and cleverly disguises that the plot is being advanced. Almost every word is like a move in a chess game, advancing nicely twisted intrigues that don’t give everything away until the very end. I especially enjoyed when the writer worked in Screenwriting 101 terms like “inciting incident” and “catalyst”.  I’m a writing geek. I liked it.

There are also flashbacks and time jumps. Catchy camera work, a hallmark of modern noir film, has unusual angles and lenses, shots cropped with unexpected frames, tight tight shots of faces, loads of glass and mirrors and reflections. You will know you’re watching a noir film without it ever really hitting you over the head.

But where is the femme fatale, you might ask? The only woman in the film, neighbor Lucy Liu, isn’t a standard femme fatale. She’s not looking for rescue and only gets involved because she apparently likes the look of a guy with a broken nose and no obvious muscles wearing only a towel. I would have loved to see her take a more active role in events, but it wouldn’t make any real sense, so be aware she’s pretty much there as a romantic character who provides the only humor in the movie. Slevin is actually more of a fatale in his role, which I thought was fun.

This is a well made, clever example of a modern noir film. I rank it up there with my favorites, Bound, LA Confidential and Blood Simple. I didn’t watch this for a long time because I’m pretty meh about Josh Hartnett, but the he’s actually perfect for the role. I recommend watching this if you like noir films, and I’ll be revisiting it some time.


Lucky Number Slevin Trailer [HD]

CFR: In Addition: Well cool. I might watch this. Thanks Mildred. And oh yeah, Josh really needed to pump some iron for the role.

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