Sly humor awaits in gangster film

Sly humor awaits in gangster film


Rival crime bosses “The Boss” and “The Rabbi” and an assassin named Goodkat focus on the unlucky Slevin in a dark-humored thriller in the style of British gangster films called Lucky Number Slevin.

Slevin lets himself into his buddy’s apartment and makes himself at home by taking a shower, only to find himself mistaken for that friend by a couple of high-powered local crime kingpins, The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) and The Boss (Morgan Freeman). Even before this shock, Slevin was already feeling battered and sporting a broken nose from an encounter with a mugger, who took his wallet and ID. His friend’s talkative, energetic, saucy neighbor Lindsey (Lucy Liu) barges in on Slevin too but decides help him out of his difficulties and solve the mystery of his missing friend. To make things worse, the crime bosses have brought in a renowned assassin named Goodkat (Bruce Willis). And relentless Detective Brikowski (Stanley Tucci) is not far behind all the comings and goings.

The film has plenty of action and violence but a dry humor and verbal banter, in the style of British gangster films like Snatch. In fact, this is the hand of Scottish director Paul McGuigan, whose previous films include Gangster Number One, on the script of New Yorker Jason Smilovic. There is a touch of British-New York Jewish humor and cleverness that makes this film a treat for the ear as well as the eyes. The script is very well-written, with unique characters and terrific plot twists.

Like an Alfred Hitchcock thriller with a case of mistaken identity launching a series of unexpected events, Slevin steps out of a shower into a whole lot of trouble. The clever, oddball dialog is the stamp of scriptwriter Smilovic who also always keeps us guessing about what is really going on.

The film has several Hitchcock film references but combines that influence with the twists and dark humor of the new British gangster film genre. This is the kind of film where the clues are all there but it is not until the end that you slap your forehead and say “of course.” Yet even on a second viewing the film is still engrossing and entertaining.

Everyone in the movie seems to be a non-stop talker, or at least seems to talk rather than listen. While Slevin tries to tell the gangsters they have the wrong man, they just talk over his objections. The Boss is called The Boss because he is, The Rabbi is called that because he is a rabbi, we are told. Once partners in crime, the now occupy penthouses on opposite sides of a New York street, strongholds they never leave for fear of the other’s assassins.

This film is not PC but it is an equal opportunity offender. In addition to its back-bending, keep-you-guessing plot, the film is filled with poking fun and stereotypes. The Boss’s thugs are the expected street types but they are also a Laurel and Hardy pair — fat and thin, slow and fast. The Boss, however, is the soul of sophistication, with expensive Scotch and a tasteful penthouse, who challenges Slevin to a game of chess. When the Rabbi’s thugs show up, they are — what else — Hasidim. The Rabbi dispenses sage advice along with his threats and, of course, he won’t answer the phone on the Sabbath. The perky next door neighbor is not the expected blonde but an Asian.

Slevin himself is a puzzle, including his name. The name has two possible origins, one Gaelic and one East European Jewish. It is all part of the puzzle.

The cast is first rate and deliver firecracker performances.

Both Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman have meaty roles, worthy of their talents and Ben Kingsley clearly has fun with his contradictory villian. Josh Hartnett’s Slevin may well be his breakout role. The showcase for Lucy Liu is an eye-opener as well The visual texture adds to the humor and quirkiness, with big, bold ’60s graphic wallpaper and modern furnishings, in the styles and colors of the early 1960s.

This is one fun film but it is also an intelligent, thinking person’s puzzle that delivers first rate action and thrills. What more could you want from a gangster film?