26 June 2006

Film review: SLEVIN starring Josh Hartnett

(Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company)
Josh Hartnett and Morgan Freeman star in "Slevin"
opening in France on Wednesday, 28 June.

"Slevin" has a lot going for it. It stars A-list actors and was penned by a hip, young screenwriter. Scottish director Paul McGuigan ("Gangster No. 1" and "Wicker Park") captured the action using an ensemble cast that will impress even jaded moviegoers.

Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis and Lucy Liu play opposite Morgan Freeman and Sir Ben Kingsley in a hybrid thriller that takes style cues from notable 1990s-era thrillers such as "Reservoir Dogs," "The Grifters," "The Usual Suspects" and "Bound." Thrillers have prevailed for decades, and "Slevin" gives a crafty nod to some of the genre's best elements.

Slevin (Josh Hartnett) is the unluckiest guy on the planet. His friend, Nick, is missing and a case of mistaken identity thrusts him into a world ruled by two warring crime bosses (Freeman and Kingsley.)

Slevin is a likeable know-it-all who spouts rapid-fire dialogue along with the rest of the film's characters. If English is not your native language, keeping pace with the V.O. dialogue - and even the subtitles - will be a challenge, but worth the effort.

Lucy Liu plays Lindsey with a gangly version of panache. Lindsey is interested in getting closer to Slevin. More so when he is beat up by thugs who are convinced he is someone else — someone who owes a lot of people a lot of money. Slevin sports a broken nose from the start and is walloped with great frequency throughout the first half of the film.

To further underscore Slevin’s fragile circumstances, Hartnett spends most of the film wearing only a low-slung bath towel...and a knowing smirk. The idea of a half-naked Hartnett was allegedly a creative decision, but many of the actor’s fans (and the movie’s marketing staff) will be thankful for the wardrobe sacrifice.

The money saved on Hartnett’s wardrobe was probably invested in set design and wallpaper. The film's insular set design fully contains the characters and creates an intimate space for their schemes. Exterior scenes are nearly non-existent and "Slevin" could easily be adapted as a stage play. This is not only because of the wallpaper, but because McGuigan shoots scenes in their entirety rather than cobbling bits and pieces of performances together. Director of Photography Peter Sova reportedly lights McGuigan’s sets for 360-degree shooting so that actors and cameras can move around. Bruce Willis uses this to his advantage in his role as Mr. Goodkat, a fellow who is fond of a scam named "The Kansas City Shuffle."

(Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company)
"Slevin" stars Bruce Willis, Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu.

Style and wit carry the film a long way. It has a bit of a 1970’s vibe, in that it features violence, nudity and cursing without apology. These elements belong in a picture like this and the filmmakers did not excise them to play it safe.

"Slevin" requires viewers to be patient. A slow start shifts into fast gear, bogs down and then moves forward again. The cast’s excellent performances don’t save "Lucky Number Slevin" from falling short of its potential. Freeman and Kingsley, who are brilliant otherwise, somehow manage to fizzle in their final scene together. This piece could have been saved by more adept editing.

"Slevin" has everything a film needs to succeed, but it doesn’t reach its full potential. Fortunately, there are plenty of unique and interesting elements to hold our attention. Familiar filmmaking styles are blended with palavering dialogue that doesn't fail to satisfy. Style wrestles with substance. Style wins. (Think Tarantino.)

Both novice and advanced cinefiles will find some faults in "Lucky Number Slevin." Everybody else will enjoy the film’s quirky personality. If "clever" is a not bad word in your book, this film will thoroughly entertain.

Distributed by Metropolitan Filmexport, 1h48, US rating: R, UK rating: 18, Canada rating: 18A.
to official "Slevin" Web site (with preview); LINK to unofficial :35 second clip.


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