Title: Lucky Number Slevin
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Director: Paul McGuigan
Screenwriters: Jason Smilovic
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freema
The glib way of putting it is that I fell for the art direction. And oh, it’s some beautiful art direction: colors seem to pop off the screen, and the wallpaper takes on a life of its own. But that’s not it: wallpaper can only take me so far. Instead, I would claim that Lucky Number Slevin is a starkly beautiful film, the direction not merely elevating the plot but transcending it to the point where it is hardly even important. I could sit and watch this movie on a 24-hour loop.
The plot is what it is: a moderately clever, sub-Mametian con man ditty, with a fury of twists, some more predictable than others (some of which, in turn, are so “unpredictable” that they flirt with flagrant cheating). It is so self-consciously tricksy that any emotional investment on our part is understandably limited. The resolution to the labyrinth of a story meets with some interest and a chuckle. It’s not bad; really, it’s not.
But then, watching Lucky Number Slevin, I was overcome with the feeling that director Paul McGuigan could have filmed, oh, I don’t know, a Civil Procedure casebook, and enthralled me. As with Wicker Park, where McGuigan turned weightier, potentially troublesome material into a visual symphony, Lucky Number Slevin becomes a different film in his hands: had I merely read the screenplay, I would never have imagined this.
The fundamental difference is that McGuigan’s approach and skill gave Wicker Park‘s story a force that the screenwriter couldn’t have imagined. Here, he renders the story all but irrelevant. That last sentence was painful to write, since I proudly and emphatically consider film to be a storytelling medium, but there you have it.
Or maybe it just felt that way. After all, my admiration for McGuigan’s visual sense does not consist of me oohing and aahing at stylistic fireworks. His mastery is in the way he weaves one scene into the next, the way he makes poetry out of the most mundane episodes, the way his split-screen seems like the most natural thing in the world, emanating from within the film rather than being forced upon it by a dictatorial auteur. And a lot of that has to flow from the story; visual acuity, at least the worthwhile kind, doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Specific examples seem pointless: the film is such an indivisible whole that any division seems artificial. “Everything ran together in my head” is usually a pejorative expression, used to reference sometihng particularly bland or unmemorable, but here it’s a high compliment. I remember the entire movie in slow motion.
It’s worth mentioning that the film has a remarkable cast, from a fearless Josh Hartnett, who’s in almost every scene, to Morgan Freeman using his powers for evil instead of good, to Ben Kingsley as a character named simply “the Rabbi.” They, at least, don’t forget that they’re in a movie with a plot, and, professionals all around, they never give the game away.
I seem to remember that Lucky Number Slevin wasn’t quite satisfying in the final estimation: the story turns out to be a somewhat sterile, unworkable mobius strip, though it remains fun in a weightless way. All the same, I couldn’t drag my eyes from the screen until after the end credits. Paul McGuigan is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers, able to take the entirely ordinary and make it almost mystically hypnotic. It’s magic, more or less.