I had avoided watched Lucky # Slevin (2006) prior to writing this review due to the film getting mixed critical response (51% on rottentomatoes.com) and just not seeming that interesting based on the previews. It looked like your standard overproduced Hollywood crime/action thriller albeit with a well fleshed out cast of prominent actors. Whether I underestimated the movie or my expectations were appropriately aligned for this viewing, I found myself for the most part enjoying the Weinstein Company’s Blu-ray debut of Slevin.
The premise is based on a case of mistaken identity. Slevin (Josh Hartnett) arrives in Manhattan to visit a friend who is not at home. He soon makes the acquaintance of the neighbor (Lucy Lui in what I feel is her best role to date) who intertwines herself into his life. He finds that not one, but two crime bosses (Sir Ben Kingsley “the Rabbi” and Morgan Freeman “the Boss”) take him to be his friend who owes each of them separately substantial amounts of money. Introduce a mysterious assassin (Bruce Willis) and aggressive cop (Stanley Tucci) into the mix, and you get a very entertaining ride through a stylistic crime thriller with many twists and turns.
The visual tone of the film is distinctive in the sense that most aesthetic components (lighting, use of color, scene composition, camera focus, etc) are very purposeful and intended to elicit specific responses. Some critics have compared director Paul McGuigan’s artistic sensibility to Kubrick, and I can see similarities in many scenes (though I would argue McGuigan still has some work to do before he reaches Kurbick’s greatness). As often as I found myself absorbed in the dialogue or story, I would notice the way a scene was arranged, the stylistic use of shading or the frequently unique decorative patterns utilized.
Blending with Slevin’s purposeful directorial choices is an accentuated use of language thanks to writer Jason Smilovec. It is understandable why the film has been called “Tarantinoesque” as it relies as heavily on dialogue as action or artistic context. In fact, the film is in love with dialogue to the point of almost being irritating or artificial at certain moments. It seems that sometimes the characters will just not shut up but for the most part recite witty lines that produce more than a few moments of clever humor.
The film culminates in a twist straight from the Usual Suspects book of filmmaking. I do not think I am giving anything away here as the opening scene of the movie distinctly tells you that it is playing loose with the narrative context. When the final payoff is delivered, I found it a bit predictable but not enough to undermine the benefits of the movie. In the director commentary, Paul McGuigan states he did not intend for the revelation at the movie’s end to be particularly surprising and intentionally setup the film with adequate clues.
Overall Lucky # Slevin is entertaining and worthwhile viewing though somewhat derivative of movie styles that have been utilized over the last decade. I do not mean this as a deterrent for those not having seen the film but rather to set expectations accordingly. The dialogue and distinctive artistic style carry the film plus you have portrayals from some of our best actors including Kingsley, Willis and Freeman. Hartnett and Lui are just coming into their own as actors and arguably give their best performances to date here.
The Weinstein Company brings Lucky # Slevin to Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode that looks very nice. Framed at its theatrical ratio of 2.35:1, the high-def transfer brings out a good amount of detail. As previously mentioned, the color and contrast utilized are stylistic to the point of seeming just vaguely surreal. Hues are purposely never overly vibrant, but saturation is excellent throughout with many backgrounds being inundated with muted levels of color. Grain is never obtrusive and no excessive Digital Noise Reduction or Edge Enhancement seems to have been employed.
One complaint is that while we get good detail in close to medium shots, long shots can be soft. This may have been a purposeful choice but can be noticeable in HD for scenes that switch between close and long shots. More problematic is the resolution of darker parts of the image. Blacks can lose detail in shadowy areas that is a bit distracting. None of these criticisms override the inherent benefits of the transfer but do keep it from reaching the best of what we have seen on Blu-ray.
The audio for Slevin is very competent if not particularly dynamic. The lossless Dolby True HD 5.1 mix (48 kbps/24 bit) accentuates the dialogue, which is the heart of the film and is consistently clear and anchored in the front channels. The rears are not constantly prominent but come into play during action sequences. During these moments the soundtrack becomes suitably engaging with good surround and sub use. You’ll notice a sold “thwacking” sound for gunshots and punches which comprise much of the action. Also included are Dolby Digital 5.1 English and French tracks plus subtitles in English (SDH) and French.
The extras from the DVD and HD DVD editions have been ported over with an additional featurette with content from Hartnett and Lui. The supplements have video encoded in AVC with a high bitrate but which looks no better than SD content and all use Dolby Digital stereo sound.
Director Commentary – Director Paul McGuigan gives a thorough overview on his work for the film. There is some difficulty with his accent making it hard to understand at points. He is not the most engaging of speakers but provides many interesting details and is not afraid to point out continuity or other production issues which while possibly noticeable he considered unavoidable due to budget and shooting constraints.
Actor/Writer Commentary – Commentary from writer Jason Smilovec played against Josh Hartnett and Lucy Lui. From what I can tell, it seems the actors were recorded first with the writer’s commentary being done separately. It is probable there was some good editing done to make them all fit together as there are no moments when Smilovec appears to interact with the other two.
This is a more engaging take than the director’s commentary with Hartnett and Lui having very good chemistry. They do not always have the most relevant information in relation to the background of the film but are consistently entertaining to listen to. The writer’s input is more informing with many good tidbits about the making of the film.
Making Lucky # Slevin (13:19) – An almost promotional piece that includes input from Willis, Hartnett, the director and writer. It is enjoyable to watch but is too short and lacking enough depth to really give a good take on the making of the film.
Intimate Conversation With Josh Hartnett and Lucy Lui (14:27) – Hartnett and Lui talk about their involvement in the film. As with their engaging commentary, the chemistry between the actors is palatable though there is no real depth to their conversation.
Deleted Scenes (20:32) – Four deleted/extended scenes are presented including an alternate ending that personally seems a waste of time to bother with. The other three scenes are very interesting to watch but their removal/alternation seems justified, as they would have thrown off the pacing.
Trailer (2:05) – Trailer for the movie that reaffirms my earlier sentiment that the preview does not do an adequate job of giving a feeling for what the film is about.
Lucky # Slevin is a film where the parts hold up better than their combined effort, but if you are a fan of dialogue driven flicks like Pulp Fiction and like your movies to have a twist, this is well worth your time. Plus you get engaging performances from many great actors. While I do not consider director Paul McGuigan’s work here to be groundbreaking, it is interesting enough to make me want to see what he does next.
The Weinstein Company’s Blu-ray offering provides an impressively solid HD video transfer with a few issues and a lossless soundtrack that competently supports the film. The extras are a mixed bag with more content than depth. Overall, this release gives fans of the movie a good HD experience though by no means matching the best Blu-ray has to offer.
– Robert Searle