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“Lucky Number Slevin” pulls clever twists towards a great reveal

Slevin in towel

When did you watch an exceptionally good thriller last? If you’re looking for one, I recommend Lucky Number Slevin, available on Amazon Prime. It hit high notes for me as a very cleverly written thriller, with a very pleasing, if dark reveal, at the end.

Lucky Number Slevin poster

I found a few great elements in this movie – good storytelling, clever twist, a great cast, memorable imagery and atmosphere. As a viewer, I consider all these elements when appreciating what I watch. Maybe, of all of them, the cast doesn’t necessarily weigh that heavily. I’ve watched great international cinema with actors whose names mean nothing for the bigger audience, myself included.

Just because it’s the easiest element to talk about, let’s look at the names Lucky Number Slevin boasts in its cast.

A cast to boast over

Two mafia bosses…

Slevin Morgan Freeman

Take Morgan Freeman and Sir Ben Kingsley as the baddies. These two play the mafia bosses, once friends and allies, now mortal enemies. They pepper the movie throughout with displays of their swollen egos, otherwise so different to one another. The viewer delights in recognising that Morgan Freeman confidence and joviality that became the actor’s trademark.

Sir Ben Kingsley enlivens a character buried in philosophical non-sense, with a peculiar, yet very amusing sense of humour. The Rabi, the character he plays, rubs shoulders with the absurdity of this world. The Boss, Morgan Freeman’s character, stands at the opposite spectrum in his approach just as his residence is located literally across the street from The Rabi’s penthouse apartment.  Just like his name suggests, he acts like he owns the world, his personal stage for pulling strings as he pleases. However, in their confrontation scene, The Boss’ well-tailored stance proves nothing but a fortress in itself.

… the mystery man …

Slevin Bruce Willis

This movie places Bruce Willis in a role which certainly took some good crafting. As a preteen in the 90’s in Romania, I experienced the boom of video players and movies copied on videotapes. Bruce Willis, Jean Claude van Damme, Silverster Stallone featured the action blockbusters of our teenage years. As the big name in a number of such action movies, where acting doesn’t always require much finesse, Bruce Willis always surprises me in films like Lucky Number Slevin. I do realise I might have an intellectual bias towards this actor though and will give him all the credit for this role.

A thin, razor-blade smile, tip-of-the-glacier eyes and iron-cast mimic build the menace of Willis’ character. This guy, however, enters the stage with a calm, enticing voice. He tells a story to a guy he randomly meets at the airport, before ending it in a pretty shocking manner. Then you see him reappear in even stranger circumstances, so who the hell is he?

I will certainly not divulge this little detail, as it makes a very important part of big twist.

… the attractive neighbour and the clueless Slevin

Lucy Liu completes the all-round appeal of the cast. She plays the next-door neighbour to the main character, Slevin, involved in a very hilarious mistaken identity plot. The attractive young woman loves a good crime story, so she considers the disappearance of Slevin’s friend to be a criminal plot straight away. This brings us to the best part – the story, of course.

How the mafia hires a random guy

Lucky Number Slevin mixes up all the ingredients of a great classical comedy with the suspense of a thriller. Don’t let the rather violent beginning trick you. The action progresses in a well-paced manner, with elements of surprise and zany hilarity. Those moments in between bigger, heavy scenes give the viewer a breather, but also increase the tension and anticipate the big blow at the end.

Obviously, I will avoid revealing the twist and thus spoiling the pleasure of discovering it yourselves. With that in mind, this is the story of a young, handsome chap, who travels to New York for an off the cuff job offer from a friend. He gets mugged straight away as he arrives in the Big Apple. Next, the door to his friend’s apartment is open, but the guy is nowhere to be found. The attractive neighbour, played by Lucy Liu, pops over for a cup of sugar, and she learns about Slevin’s recent tribulations.

Non-linear timeline boosts the tension of the thriller

Now, I relish a well-build non-linear timeline. There is also a certain appeal to a good frame story, and the entire movie is built through brilliant use of this technique. In this sense, I found it very refreshing.

Slevin’s character and the mystery guy played by Bruce Willis both enter the stage through stories-within-the-story. Similar scenes also paint the background of the two rival mafia guys. At the end, the big reveal links all these stories together. That’s what makes it a very exciting, engaging, refreshing watch.

Since I’ve already mentioned the big mafia guys, you might guess Slevin gets into trouble with them. Two thugs pick him up, mistaking him for his missing friend. They deliver him, nose broken twice in the same day and dressed only in a bath towel, to The Boss. The guy wants Slevin, whom he thinks to be Max, to kill his rival’s son in revenge. Max owes him a great deal of money lost through horse-racing bets. And Slevin has no way of proving he is not Max – his wallet and all of his ID were stollen when he got mugged earlier in the day.

The situation grows even more complicated when everybody else notices this new face in town, roaming around the den of The Boss. His presence, as expected, alerts even the police.

Put all of this together and you might already want to know how it all ends.

Imagery and character choice add to the intricate weaving

Remember I mentioned imagery and atmosphere as two elements which contribute to how memorable a film is?

I mentioned above that the beginning is pretty harrowing. You don’t often see movies where characters you’re already sympathising with get killed straight away, in what seems an unnecessary harsh resolve. Sure, the two suited guys eliminated in the opening scenes don’t move you much. That’s to be expected from a thriller. But then you meet a young father who follows a tip to bet on a certain horse in a fixed race. He is just a random guy, so why punish him when he doesn’t even know the mafia was involved?

One image stayed vividly present in my head: the racecourse car park, full of colourful old cars, and just one missing. They look like candy bars, joyful and enticing, but what starts here is far from happy. A stark contrast between the image and the action happening at the time makes the scene stick in the viewer’s mind.

The imagery of the movie and the pace of the action reminded me at times of Mel Gibson’s Payback. Lucky Number Slevin also shares the same weirdness and great dark humour.

Now there is no real question of morality in this thriller. As the big reveal happens with the last twist, some viewers might be inclined to think of the psychology behind it. I myself did, but then I tend to analyse even cartoons in this manner. Still, I think the movie compels you to consider the character’s choices from a psychological point of view. What made them change their mind?

Fun facts time

Let’s end with a bit of a fun facts section. Paul McGuigan, who directed this movie, also gave us some of the most exciting episodes in the famous Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock. Look it up and see which episodes I mean.

For the second and last fun fact, I challenge you to think about luck, after you’ve watched this movie. Are we lucky if we gain a lot out of the blue, or if we just manage to stay alive in very dire circumstances?

Give it a thought and share it with me in comments. I now plan to write a post about my personal luck, while we still face this pandemic.

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