FILM REVIEW: Lucky

Harry Dean Stanton was, undoubtedly, one of the most recognisable and talented character-actors in the history of cinema. Appearing in over 200 films in a career that spanned six decades, Stanton is an unsung hero of the cinematic world. Alien, The Avengers, Twin Peaks etc, he’s made his way into pretty much everything you’ve ever seen in some way, yet, he was never given an opportunity to headline. Until now.

Until Lucky.

Sadly, the great man passed away before the film hit the world, and it now must stand as a tragic bit of irony; the first leading role of his career came after his death. Lucky, then, becomes something of a celebration of the great man and his wonderful, magical career. Thankfully – in his cinematic debut – John Carroll Lynch (no relation to David) delivers a heart-felt, moving, beautiful piece of existential exploration of the human condition, and the sad inevitable conclusion that all must one day face. Lucky tells the tell of the titular character; portrayed wonderfully by Stanton, as he comes to terms with his own mortality and the biological ticking-tock that is the human body.

Using his discussions with the local community of eccentrics, particularly the escapades of his best friend’s missing Tortoise – President Roosevelt – Sparks and Sumonja examine the human condition. They do this, mostly, via a fantastic screenplay, full of wonderful characters who all stand out. It is very much in the mould of traditional American-independent: Eccentric characters, ‘kooky’ situations; yet, if Juno was an example of this done very badly, Lucky is an example of it done very well. Most characters are likeable and engaging. The dialogue, in terms of structure, is very reminiscent of a Franz Kafka novel; most exchanges take the form of subjective philosophical discussions as each character tries – in vain – to find some form of objective truth in a very subjective world.

Lucky himself provides a beautiful counter-point to this, as his discovery of the word ‘realism’ – early on in the script – leads him to point out to other characters the folly of such thinking. Until, of course, his own morality begins to stare him directly in the face. Then, out of fear, he does begin to hunt for some objective meaning, for some reason for the madness that is life. It becomes one man’s spiritual journey to accept the inevitable void.

The way the writers have chosen to examine these topics is very simple, yet effective. They essentially strip away a lot of what we consider to be ‘cinematic form’. There is no major overarching narrative – at least in the traditional sense – no villains, no heroes, no quests. What it is, is one of the more emotionally effective character studies of recent time. All the frills and spills are removed, and what we are left with is Lucky’s favourite concept; unfiltered realism. The substance is stripped away to reveal a very nuanced and very human experience; sitting somewhere between an exploration of death and a celebration of life; ending up in between the two. It neither presents death as a devouring monster, nor does it present life as sunshine and rainbows; instead, it takes a very neutral view of the themes and allows us – via the many characters they explore – to make up our own minds, and perhaps to become more aware of our own existence and approaching end.

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No good script is worth much without performances to match it, and, thankfully, the major players here are all fantastic. I’ll move onto the MVP in a moment, as I feel he deserves an entire section to himself, so I’ll start with who effectively becomes to second-billed co-star; my idol, Mr. David Lynch. Anyone familiar with my work should likely know by now that I consider Lynch my idol, so, to avoid potential bias, let me get a minor negative out the way first. David Lynch is no Daniel DayLewis, or even a Harry Dean Stanton; his dialogue reading is still somewhat unnatural and he’s never going to contend for an award. Yet, that said, his comedic timing is fantastic and his facial expressions are incredible. Channelling the ghost of Twin Peaks’ Gordon Cole, Lynch plays the bewildered old man better than anyone I can think of and gives a legitimately hilarious performance. For me, his monologue about the nobility of the tortoise is my favourite part of the entire movie and solicited loud laughs from me. ‘There are some things, ladies and gentlemen, in this world that are bigger than all of us…and a tortoise is one of them!’ This line really does only work with Lynch’s trademark voice. It is not an academy-award winning performance, but Lynch definitely has a potential future in comedy.

Stanton, on the other hand, does deliver an academy-award winning performance, and I view it as an absolute tragedy that he’s been completely overlooked this year. How, exactly, does someone with his legacy deliver such a beautiful post-humous performance and then the academy just ignores it, as if it never happened? It seems, on paper, like the ideal academy scenario; a chance to reward a long-time favourite with an award he’s never won before. Mysteriously, bafflingly, it’s overlooked and doesn’t happen. Yet, you feel Stanton wouldn’t mind, and he’d most likely find the Academy Awards to be a laughable farce; which is why Lucky is the perfect final performance for him. While he does put in a great acting performance, there is certainly a lot of himself in the character, allowing him to almost project his own beliefs on screen in a final celebration of his legacy; not just as a performer, but as a human being. He is – throughout the run time – a magnetic presence; stoic yet charismatic, abrasive yet charming, he juxtaposes so many ideas that shouldn’t mesh together – and yet do – that it is frankly astonishing. This is no theatrical performance; this is a stilted, low-key humanistic portrayal of a very real and believable character, and every second that he spends on-screen is fantastic.

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If there is a criticism to be aimed at Lucky, it would be the directing itself. Not that it’s bad, per say, merely that it’s very bog-standard and without much in the way of creativity or uniqueness. It takes a very intriguing script, and delivers it in a pretty mundane fashion. It’s possible, of course, that Carroll Lynch wanted to make sure the film retained substance over style, and the directorial style is meant to match the stripped-down, humanistic feel of the script. That’s plausible, but it does lead to a rather uninspiring visual experience. It is, of course, a directorial debut, and it’s far from being bad. Consequently, I’d say he’s a director to keep an eye on, but this isn’t anything Earth-Shattering. Lucky is a wonderful little examination of our own fragility and temporary existence on this planet. The fact that Stanton died during post-production almost adds to this theme; as we now find ourselves – as an audience – in a very unique situation. We are watching a man who is dead playing a character who is dealing with his own upcoming death and trying to come to terms with it; giving the film an unintended meta-layer that really does elevate it. Lynch is hilarious, Roosevelt the Tortoise steals the show, and Stanton gives a perhaps career-best performance at his final time of asking. For that reason alone, perhaps, Lucky is a film any self-respecting cinephile needs to see at least once.

4-out-of-5

Review by Joshua Moulinie

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