While it could have been yet another stocky, straight-to-video Tarantino rip-off, 'Lucky Number Slevin' takes the road less traveled, with an all-star cast and a surprisingly solid script. The results amount to an original and amusing modern crime noir about hitmen quite literally caught with their pants down.
Mistaken for another man, Slevin (Josh Hartnett) is trapped in a deceitful game of cat-and-mouse with a pair of rival mob bosses (Sir Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman), a relentless detective (Stanley Tucci), a mysterious assassin called Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis), and a precocious neighbor (Lucy Liu) who works at the local morgue. Under constant surveillance and manipulated at every turn, Slevin has to navigate a disastrous case of mistaken identity and find a way to turn the tables in his favor.
To be blunt, 'Lucky Number Slevin' would be a fairly horrible flick if it had a different cast. As I watched each double-cross unfold, I tried to think of other actors who could fill the individual roles, but each part is written so precisely for its performer that removing any one piece would undermine the entire structure of the film. The characters are creatures of conflict and contrast. Hartnett is sweet but cunning, Kingsley is ruthless but logical, and Freeman is quiet but convincingly vicious. But the complexities don't end there -- Tucci is consistent but oblivious, Willis is cold but hides a warm heart, and Liu creates one of the most eccentric female leads of this young century.
The film is also home to line after line of witty dialogue, natural chemistry between the wide array of characters, and a slow-burn story that's a blast from beginning to end. While the numerous twists and turns eventually become a bit gratuitous and overreaching, most of them still bring a smile to my face. Sure, I predicted several plot points from a mile away, but it rarely hindered my overall enjoyment of the film itself.
Of particular note is the art direction. Everything from costuming to set decoration has been intricately designed to induce unease, comfort, confusion, and a variety of other feelings. I'm usually not the kind of moviegoer who notices character's clothing, stage dressing, or room arrangements, but I found my eyes constantly moving from one side of the screen to the other as though I was studying the work of an award-winning photographer. Director Paul McGuigan's camera placement, color and pattern design, and tonal choices have as much impact on the story as the emotional (or emotionless) images in the films of Stanley Kubrick.
With all of that said, 'Lucky Number Slevin' isn't a perfect movie. In particular, I noted a few key choices that seemed to reach for Tarantino-esque notoriety -- the kingpins' henchmen are cartoonish caricatures, the movie follows tangental conversations, and the dialogue is occasionally overwritten -- however, for the most part, these are transient dry heaves in an otherwise exceptional modern noir with nods to Sam Spade, Elmore Leonard, and Orson Welles.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed 'Lucky Number Slevin.' I sat down expecting a Tarantino knock-off, but instead discovered a pleasantly engaging flick that I've watched several times since. It may not be for everyone, but give it a shot and see what you think.
I'm happy to report that the UK Blu-ray edition of 'Lucky Number Slevin' matches the US HD DVD positive for positive, while managing to improve on several issues I noted in my domestic review. Brought to life with a crisp 1080p/VC-1 transfer, this import is a technical eye catcher that effortlessly renders the film's intricate textures and wallpaper stylings. By comparison, the standard DVD is befuddled by these patterns, blurring them together in a muddy mess of lines and squiggles. The palette is also lovely -- blood splashes vibrant reds across the screen, black levels are varied and detailed, and skin tones are natural. Most impressive of all, balanced contrast levels force primary colors to pop, crafting a beautiful world that I felt I could reach out and touch.
While a few long shots and cityscapes suffer from reduced detail and increased noise, the picture is far more stable than the domestic HD DVD. Clarity no longer fluctuates at random intervals, brightness is more consistent, and shadow delineation finally reveals all of the necessary details in the backgrounds. I still noticed a handful of print scratches (most noticeably when Hartnett visits the Rabbi's son in his hotel room), but it's hardly a distration. All in all, this Blu-ray import stabilizes the print and makes 'Lucky Number Slevin' a beauty to behold. Importers should be most pleased with the results.
The picture may have received a slight upgrade, but the audio package nets grander rewards with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Sure, 'Lucky Number Slevin' is a conversation driven experience, but this particular mix offers deep, natural voice tones, fine-tuned prioritization, and hefty LFE support. The track can still be a bit front heavy at times, but the rear channels consistently work together to create an immersive ambient atmosphere. Just skip to the scene in the upscale restaurant -- listen to the crowd chatter, clinking silverware, and rustling movements of the wait staff. For a film billed as a guns-n-gangsters extravaganza, there's distinct maturity present in the soundscape. Better still, such subtleties highlight the relationship between the noirish soundtrack and the shadow-cloaked scenery. Dancing behind the edges of every scene, jazz-infused music complements the tone and look of the film, further enhancing the groundwork laid by the actors and the filmmakers. To top it all off, violence has an organic resonance that surrounds the listener with soft thuds, squishy splashes, and heavy blasts.
While it's only 16-Bit, the DTS-HD MA track outclasses the HD DVD's Dolby Digital-Plus mix in clarity, fidelity, and low-end extension. I even felt the track offered a more remarkably precise soundscape than I had found in the domestic version. Placebo effect? I doubt it. I pulled my wife into our home theater for a quick comparison between the two tracks. I let her listen to a selection of ten scenes and had her choose which track sounded the best to her ears (I even alternated which track was played first for each scene). Eight times out of ten, she chose the BD import, noting that its audio sounded "clearer and more refined." In the other two scenes, she couldn't detect a noticeable difference. This homegrown method was by no means fool-proof, but it did verify that the differences I detected were evidence of genuine improvements. In my opinion, fans of 'Lucky Number Slevin' will be quite pleased with how good the film sounds on this BD import.
This Blu-ray import edition of ‘Lucky Number Slevin’ features most of the special features that were included on the domestic HD DVD. The only supplements MIA are a collection of mediocre deleted scenes and an exclusive chat between Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu. While I missed their quick-witted conversation, its absence shouldn’t be enough to deter someone from importing this disc.
'Lucky Number Slevin' could've been another shoot-em-up, rip-em-off, bang-boom explosion of a B-movie, but it instead turned out to be an amusing, witty, and complex noir homage with superb performances that captured my attention andimagination. For anyone who doesn't want to wait for Weinstein to announce their future BD plans, this UK Blu-ray import is worth a look. Aside from a few missing features, the import features an improved video transfer and a DTS-HD Master Audio track. In my estimation, this import is the version of the film to beat.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.