Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

Rating: B-

Dir: Paul McGuigan
Star: Josh Hartnett, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Lucy Liu

I enjoy this kind of twisty thriller – when done right (I’m thinking of Nine Queens, or David Mamet’s best work, for example), there are few better kinds of cinema. While things here don’t reach that kind of level, it’s a credible stab. Our hero, Slevin (Hartnett), arrives in town to visit a friend, only to be mistaken for that friend, who owes large sums of money to two warring bosses (Freeman and Kingsley). Unable to prove otherwise, he’s forced into accepting the deals they independently offer him, in exchange for writing off the respective debts. From there, unspools a chain of events, deaths and revenge – both served hot and very, very, cold – while a mysterious stranger (Bruce Willis) stands in the shadows, pulling the strings. Or does he?

Initially, McGuigan manages to keep control of things very nicely, with dialogue that is snappy yet credible: Slevin’s smartass mouth usually results in him getting beaten up. The material is less effectively restrained as things escalate, though watching Kingsley play a Jewish mobster is never exactly a chore. It’s also true no film so obviously influenced by Pulp Fiction will ever receive unadulterated praise from me. Like that over-rated stew, writer Jason Smilovic lacks confidence in his ability to be interesting in a straightforward manner, feeling that rearranging events semi-randomly, somehow adds depth. But unlike Pulp, which needed all the help it could get, the material here is better than the author thinks. It all ties together nicely, though the revelation at the end is hardly so shocking as to merit such elaborate concealment. A simpler approach might have made this a genre classic rather than just a solid, satisfactory piece of entertainment.