There are two different types of films within Lucky Number Slevin. The first, and much better, is the one we see in the first half, where dialogue is sharp, characters play off one another for laughs, and nobody takes things too seriously. The second half of the film ties things up, (sometimes literally), but is too serious for its own good. When a big revelation occurs near the end, one that I can only guess was meant to fool me, I wasn’t shocked. Instead, I was disappointed, because I looked back on the last 45 minutes and wondered where the humor went.
At times, Lucky Number Slevin was a real joy to watch. These times generally occurred between the point where a wheelchair-bound Bruce Willis finished telling a story to a man sitting at an airport terminal and just before the first big murder of the film happens, but there are many clever points nonetheless. For the first half of the film, the dialogue carries this film, and really gets the audience engaged in the plot, an engagement that begins to wear thin later on in the film.
The story concerns one man, named Slevin (Josh Hartnett), who gets mistaken to be another man, Nick. Nick apparently owes two crime lords a bunch of money, and in order to square this debt, Slevin gets hired by one, The Boss (Morgan Freeman) to kill a man, while the other, The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), just wants his cash. Oh yeah, the two men that hire Slevin live in towers opposite one another in New York City. Yes, finding that out is funny.
A lot of the first half of the film is played for laughs. Slevin is visiting Nick’s apartment, spending a lot of time in a bathrobe–he even gets kidnapped without being able to put clothes on first. During these kidnappings, (there are many), the dialogue exchanges between Slevin and his captors are likely to make you laugh, possibly even a lot. The first meeting with Morgan Freeman was probably the highlight of the entire film.
And during the first half of the film, you probably won’t know how the film will end. It tries to keep you guessing and wondering what’s happening, and it succeeds. You want to know what happened to Nick and you want to know how, and if, Slevin is going to settle the debts with the crime lords.
But then we reach the second half of the film. I suppose this is where the “thriller” part comes into play. I wish I had nicer things to say about this half and the finale of the film, but I don’t. There’s a point in the film where I guessed the big “twist”. I was correct in this guess. That is disappointing. It makes the conclusion feel really weak and almost pointless. Yes, there was one final plot turn right at the very end that I didn’t see coming, but it was so minor that I didn’t care. It was done just to inject a small bit of happiness into the ending, or at least that’s what I’m guessing.
What makes the second half of the film so much weaker than the great beginning is the fact that the dialogue suddenly becomes much more serious in nature than before. Characters were always saying their lines with straight faces, but previously, the lines were clever and led to the person they were talking to responding with something equally as clever. Past the half way point, this doesn’t happen; characters just talk in order to advance or reveal something important about the plot. All humor is drained in order for the film to actually feel like a real thriller, not one that should be taken as tongue-in-cheek. That’s a shame, because I was having much more fun with it before it started taking itself so seriously.
There’s also something odd about the editing and this shines through once you’re no longer laughing at almost every line of dialogue. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be as choppy as it was, given the fact that the scenes where this happens in would not really be difficult to edit properly, but they ended up being that way. Characters would dart a foot or so over, or return to a position they were in previously before the cut occurred, making the entire scene feel unnatural. There are only a few times where this happened, but it was really noticeable when it did.
I’m not sure whether Lucky Number Slevin ran out of steam or if it just didn’t quite click properly, but it ended up removing the element I enjoyed in its first half in favor of a more serious final half. I was having a lot of fun, for a while, but once the film ended, I took a step back and realized how large a shift in tone there had been. The humor was gone, replaced with an actual thriller; and the thriller that we got wasn’t all that interesting or clever, especially in terms of its plot. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not one I can highly recommend either.