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New Release Review - LUCKY

lucky film review
After taking a fall, a nonagenarian confronts his mortality.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: John Carroll Lynch

Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, James Darren

lucky film poster


With a career that traversed both grindhouse and arthouse cinema, the late Harry Dean Stanton is something of a patron saint for those of us who love the movies made in Hollywood's margins. If you could bring only the filmography of a single actor to a desert island, you would be hard pressed to pick a better actor than Stanton, such is the breadth of great cinema he contributed to - Cool Hand Luke; Kelly's HeroesPat Garrett & Billy the Kid; Cockfighter; Straight Time; Alien; Escape from New York; Repo ManTwin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me; and of course, Paris, Texas, which prior to actor John Carroll Lynch's directorial debut, Lucky, offered Stanton his most upfront role.

Much like Sean Bean, Stanton's career was often jokingly associated with roles in which his character died on screen, so it's somewhat ironic that the actor lived to the ripe old age of 91. He was 89 while shooting Lucky, which has been misreported as his final role (we'll see him again in Sinatra biopic Frank and Ava), though it will almost definitely be the last time we get to see that wonderful face, its craggy wrinkles like timelines of American pop culture, on the big screen.

lucky film review

Penned by first time writers Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, Lucky was clearly written with Stanton in mind. The eponymous character, a 91 year-old resident of a tiny Arizona town, has a backstory that mirrors Stanton's own - a childhood in Kentucky; a stint as a Navy cook in WWII; never married. Lucky spends his days in a well worn routine, lighting a cigarette before he swings his legs out of bed late in the morning; followed by an admirable exercise routine that will make those of us far younger feel guilty; donning his uniform of plaid shirt, jeans and boots from a Charlie Brown-esque wardrobe selection; coffee at the local diner; TV game shows in the afternoon; and drinking at a local bar in the evening.

Lucky's existence is knocked off course when he becomes light-headed one morning and suffers a fall. His doctor (Ed Begley Jr.) tells him it's simply a symptom of old age, but Lucky is stumped by this diagnosis, having never stopped to think about just how long he's been alive, and how little time he might have left. With the help of various friends and strangers, Lucky begins to confront and slowly accept his mortality.

lucky film review

One of the great shames of Hollywood is that movie stars tend to be discarded just at the point when they become most interesting - when wrinkles and lines make their faces more expressive, when their stubborn joints force them to make more considered movements - so it's always a treat when an aging star gets a lead role, and when it's a performer like Stanton, who spent their career largely behind the shoulder of the handsome leading man, it's an extra delight.

Stanton is simply mesmeric here, commanding the screen in a way that makes you imagine his director tore up a lot of pre-planned ideas to let Stanton tell his own story (a scene in which Stanton breaks out in a Spanish language ballad smacks of indulgence, but it's one of the sweetest movie moments of the year). He's funny, warm, sad and even a little scary (when he challenges a 40-year-old to a fight, your money is on Stanton).

lucky film review

Lucky's is a peculiar brand of of American masculinity rarely explored on screen since the heyday of Sam Peckinpah and Monte Hellman, two filmmakers who played a key role in forming Stanton's unique screen persona. He's as rugged as the Arizona landscape that surrounds him, and not someone you want to cross; he's a little intolerant, but only because he doesn't understand the changing world around him; and he turns into a little boy at the sight of a dog.

Stanton is backed up by an impressive ensemble of actors similarly coming to the ends of their careers. His longtime collaborator David Lynch gets a suitably eccentric role as the heartbroken owner of a 100-year-old tortoise who made a break for freedom when he left his gate open. His Alien co-star Tom Skerritt delivers a touching monologue about finding a moment of beauty on a WWII battlefield. Small screen staple James Darren (TJ Hooker; Deep Space Nine) gets a rare chance to shine on the big screen as a laconic bar owner, a performance crying out for a director to give him a Tarantino-esque late career revival. But make no mistake, this is Stanton's party, and it's as fitting a farewell to an unassuming screen legend as you could hope for.

Lucky is in UK/ROI cinemas September 14th.




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