Lucky Number Slevin
directed by Paul McGuigan
(Weinstein, 2006)

To many film fans -- especially those who've seen Bruce Almighty -- Morgan Freeman is God.

In Lucky Number Slevin, however, he's not quite as well-positioned. Granted, he's "The Boss," though The Boss of what we're never quite sure.

That's because Slevin starts out to confuse us -- and succeeds -- from the beginning, in which an anonymous male sleeping in a terminal waiting room (Sam Jaeger) is awakened by an anonymous male in a wheelchair (Bruce Willis) talking like some Raymond Chandler character about a ploy known as "The Kansas City Shuffle." Just what that shuffle might be is -- like everything else in the first 90 minutes of Slevin -- not quite clear, but it seems to have something to do with a fixed-race-gone-wrong at Aqueduct in the late 1970s, and the repercussions for those who bet on the race.

But all that gets lost, at least for a little while, with the appearance of Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett), a young man who, he says, just lost his job, his apartment, his girlfriend and his wallet (in a mugging) and has decided to forget it all by visiting his old buddy Nick Fisher in New York.

But Nick isn't at his apartment when Slevin arrives, and that's where the trouble begins. Slevin is quickly escorted out of the apartment by a couple of thugs (Dorian Missick and Kevin Chamberlain) who deliver him to The Boss, who calls on Slevin -- whom he assumes is Fisher -- to avenge the slaying of his son by killing the son of his rival, The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), his former partner in the bookie business, who lives across the street from The Boss in an opposing high-rise.

But things really get complicated when Slevin, barely back in Fisher's apartment, is picked up by two more thugs (Mykelti Williamson and Scott Gibson) who assume he's Fisher and deliver him to The Rabbi, who demands that he produce the $33,000 owed to him within 48 hours. The Rabbi, we learn in a brief scene after the thugs escort Slevin out, is in cahoots with anonymous male No. 2, who, by the way, closed the above-mentioned scene by offing anonymous male No. 1.

If all this seems to stretch credulity to the limit and beyond, you're right. Slevin is a totally unbelievable story that will suck you in and keep you riveted from the opening scene until Slevin wakes up in bed with Fisher's fast-talking neighbor, Lindsey (Lucy Liu).

Lindsey is, unbelievably enough, a coroner and a huge fan of Columbo, which makes her part Jack Klugman and part Peter Falk, and she senses mystery from the moment of Slevin's appearance, which just happened to coincide with the moment of Fisher's disappearance. She's also quite fetching, but then there's much in Slevin that's fetching. There's the camerawork, for one, beginning with the opening sequence in the terminal waiting room. The sharp contrast of the blue seats and the gray walls make it clear this is one film that isn't afraid to draw attention to itself. The monochromatic designs of Fisher's apartment building hallways reinforce that effect.

Then there's the music. Slevin is underscored by a quirky little theme reminiscent of Get Shorty. And the dialogue includes equally quirky gems, such as Slevin's introduction to The Rabbi:

The Rabbi: You must be Mr. Fisher.
Slevin: Must I be? Because it hasn't been working out for me lately.
The Rabbi: But I'm afraid you must.
Slevin: Well, if I must.

This is dialogue to die for.

Part of the fun, too, is derived from the contrast between Kingsley's super-intense performance as the rabbi who's gone over to the dark side and Hartnett's 20-something slacker who refuses to take even the most serious death threats seriously, both operating beneath the shadow of Freeman's deadpan delivery of dead-serious lines.

All that makes Slevin a weird combination of quirky characters, insanely funny dialogue and plot twists designed to give you back spasms -- but all adding up to some very serious business.

The ending -- OK, that's a bit of a letdown, Hollywood-style. But the trip there? Confusion has never been this much fun.

by Miles O'Dometer
14 April 2007

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