Lucky # Slevin [Blu-ray]
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Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (8th March 2009).
The Film

There’s a fine line between being cool and slick; most of it comes down to effort. The Fonz was cool because he appears effortless in his actions and never has to try to be cool, he just is. Too much effort put into being cool crosses the line into the realm of the slick; a pained attempt at cool that overreaches and comes off as forced. Over his career Quentin Tarantino’s writing has always existed in the realm of the cool, with dialogue that comes across unforced and naturally on just about any subject. This style that seems to come so easily in Tarantino films has been attempted by many other writers, but winds up as an exercise in futility that gets frustratingly slick, especially in the crime movies like “Lucky # Slevin” (2006) which tries so hard to imitate the ease of Tarantino and other writers that it winds up just force feeding the audience a story that just isn’t compelling.

Beginning with the story of a fixed horserace, the film follows Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) who is in New York to stay with his friend Nick after a run of bad luck in loosing his girlfriend, his job and apartment. Soon Slevin gets caught up in Nick’s gambling debts as Nick owed more than $90,000 to a bookie who has been recently murdered and a couple of hit men show up to take Nick to see The Boss (Morgan Freeman), taking Slevin to be Nick. The Boss decideds to collect on Nick’s debt by having Slevin kill the son of rival mobster The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) in retaliation for the death of The Boss’s son. However there’s some shady dealing underneath it all as a mysterious hitman Goodkat (Bruce Willis) seems to be influencing both The Rabbi and The Boss in using Slevin to their own ends.

At the core of the film is it’s writing, which almost reminds me of a more expensive (and less annoying) version of “Brick” (2006) in terms of the way the dialogue is so steeped in an imaginary way of speaking that the characters used, it comes across as forced, unrealistic, and just plain annoying for me. Every character tries so hard to be cool in their words and actions that it’s just a slick take on the crime movie with slightly less starpower than the “Ocean’s Eleven” remake series (2001-2007). There’s of course some twists and turns that get revisited later on in the film, again like the “Ocean’s” movives, that aren’t terribly set up, but just don’t carry any intrigue or questioning by the end of the film. Partially it’s because they come fairly obvious early on, but at the same time some of them feel simply unnecessary.

At the same time the actors who take up the screenplay don’t really push the material either. The heavy hitters like Freeman, Willis and Kingsley seem to just be along for the ride. Willis of course still has an air of cool about him, but that mostly comes from his own reputation and personal acting record. I’ve never been particularly impressed with Hartnett in a lead role, and “Slevin” is no real changeup for him. The film’s visual style and production design may be the best part of the film in terms of the different colors and backgrounds that keep the film at least a little bit interesting visually even though the dialogue tends to grate on my nerves. Paul McGuigan does a good enough job setting up all the action and directing well enough to get the visual cues and clues to the later twists of the film, but it’s hard to visually bring a movie far enough above the writing to make the rest of the film worth it.

Overall, “Lucky # Slevin” just doesn’t have the energy to keep me involved in the film. Though some of McGuigan’s visual stylings are good enough, there’s not enough to really capture your imagination or keep your eyes riveted in fascination with the film. Sure there are some huge name actors in the film, but they’re about the only aspects of the film that can really bring the cool factor that the film is trying to achieve.

Video

The film is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p 24/fps HD with AVC MPEG-4 encoding and looks good in it’s Blu-ray transfer. The colors of the wallpapers that McGuigan seems to have an obsession with show up particularly well though there are some scenes where the focus on certain foreground or background items makes the out of focus parts seem grainier or blurrier than they should be.

Audio

Presented with an either an English Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 audio or English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks. The sound is similarly well presented, capturing all the different aspects of the film in terms of the different deaths or hits of the more violent scenes of the movie, along with a soundtrack that matches the tones of the different scenes fairly well. All of the levels are properly balanced and the sound tends to move fairly well, keeping up to expectations for what newer films sound like on Blu-ray.
There are also optional English and Spanish subtitles.

Extras

The single disc set comes with a few helpful extras including 2 audio commentary tracks, 2 featurettes, 4 deleted/alternate scenes and the theatrical trailer.

First is the audio commentary with director Paul McGuigan who provides a fairly good commentary in talking about his involvement in the production and development of the film itself talking about how, for him the name is like an ugly child, it may look bad but because it’s yours, you have to love it. There are some awkward pauses but overall he’s very candid and upfront about the film itself, talking about what works what doesn’t work, flaws in the movie, and generally his process and inspirations.

The next audio commentary is with cast members Lucy Liu and Josh Hartnett, and screenwriter Jason Smilovic, which is basically a combination of 2 separate commentaries as the writer’s section was apparently recorded in a later session in a different place, which is almost amazing in terms of how many pauses are in the commentary and how many there would have been between Liu and Hartnett if Smilovic hadn’t thrown in his own comments on the film. Liu and Hartnett have a few interesting conversations about the production and do a lot of patting on the back to the rest of the cast and crew, dropping in a few comments about their conceptions of characters. Smilovic talks a bit more about how he thought of the writing and the film itself, which is okay to listen to, but at times comes off as a bit too pretentious.

“Making ‘Lucky Number Slevin’” runs for 13 minutes and 19 seconds, this first featurette runs through the basic making-of territory, speaking with the writer, producers, actors and other to talk about how the film got picked up and how the entire film was pulled together. It does a nice enough job in showing the behind-the-scenes footage and hearing from some of the people involved with the film, but is still fairly brief and does a lot of the praising that you would typically expect.

“An Intamate Conversation with Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu” runs for 14 minutes and 27 seconds. This featurette just features a sit down interview with the two actors throwing in clips from the film. The cover some of the same ground that they talk about in the commentary, praising each other and talking about their characters, but they seem to be much more talkative when they’re actually being filmed doing it rather than just talking about what their watching. It turns out to be a bit more engaging version of the commentary, maybe because it’s so brief and without the awkward pauses that the commentary seems to suffer from.

Next are the deleted scenes, 4 in all, which can be played with optional audio commentary by director Paul McGuigan:

- “Elvis and Sloe” runs for 7 minutes and 13 seconds. Elvis and Sloe bring Goodkat up to see The Boss and get into a little bit of a fight, along with some extra scenes of Elvis, Sloe and Slevin on the way to see The Boss afterwards. McGuigan talks about how the scene was meant to show how much better Goodkat is than any other hitman, as well as explaining how the scenes slow down the movie and why they were eventually taken out of the film.
- “The Bodyguard’s Story” runs for 4 minutes and 26 seconds, here the 2 Israeli bodyguards protect The Rabbi’s son and tell eachother some jokes and talk about having sex with women. McGuigan talks a bit about how the scene was also considered too comical for the film.
- “The Rabbi and The Boss” runs for 8 minutes, this extended scene does not include commentary and shows a longer take of when The Rabbi and The Boss wake up in The Boss’s apartment before Slevin and Goodkat reveal themselves.
- Finally is the “alternate ending” which runs for 51 seconds, where Slevin kills Lindsey instead of Goodkat at the end of the film and McGuigan talks about how he likes the darker tone this ending creates.

Finally is the theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes and 5 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C- Video: A- Audio: A Extras: C+ Overall: B-

 


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