" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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A big hit at Sundance, Lucky Number Slevin is the latest film in the Tarantino-wannabe category. It sports a great cast and a satisfying story, but we can’t help but think that we’ve seen it all before.

The Wrong Man

Hartnett and Freeman fill a great cast, maybe better than the movie deserves
Hartnett and Freeman fill a great cast, maybe better than the movie deserves

Josh Hartnett plays our protagonist. Coming to a friend’s apartment, he meets a neighbor in the hallway (Lucy Liu). They hit it off right away, which is lucky, because they have something to talk about: why the friend has disappeared from his apartment.

But that’s not the key mystery in Lucky Number Slevin. The key mystery comes when, shortly thereafter, Hartnett is kidnapped from the apartment, dressed only in a towel, and hauled before crime boss Mr. Goodkat (Morgan Freeman), in a case of mistaken identity.

Hartnett’s bemused, detached smile seems to be laughing with the audience at such a contrived, movie-like setup. The smile recognizes that it’s attached to a movie-type hero and decides to play along. The crime boss thinks Slevin is some guy who owes him more money than Slevin can afford, but he’ll accept payment in kind; Slevin must do a little “favor” for Goodkat.

Before long, Slevin is hauled before yet another crime boss (Ben Kingsley), whose office happens to be right across the street from Goodkat’s, in yet another case of mistaken identity. As if that weren’t enough, a shadowy Bruce Willis seems to be involved with both bosses, which is odd because they hate and fear each other so much that neither has left his office for decades.

All this is wrapped in two bookending stories, seemingly unrelated: one about a boy and a father going to a baseball game in the 1960s, and one with Willis telling gangster parables to a stranger in an airport.

Competently Made

The elaborate plot basically works and is generally satisfying, although there really isn’t much suspense. We’ve seen this type of crime comedy/thriller before, and we know that a skillful director will get us out in the end. The only question is whether he’ll successfully bring together all the pieces, or whether he’ll leave gaps in the logic or consistency.

The movie is competently made, with strong, stylish production design and cinematography. Maybe the worst calculated mistake is the dialogue, which sounds very written. It’s self-consciously pulpy, which takes a while to get used to.

And then there’s the movie’s moral message — not one of the most important things on its mind, clearly. In the end, we have allowed the murder of innocents for the sake of one man’s revenge, and there wasn’t even a price to pay, except for the fun of the duration of the movie. Give me something unabashedly darker (like Oldboy, which is a similar, but far better film), or give me a hero who I can actually respect, rather than someone who can get away with murder because of his winning smile.