Film review: “Lucky” (2017)

“Lucky” (2017)



Running Time: 90 minutes

Written by: Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja

Directed by: John Carroll Lynch

Featuring: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr. and Tom Skerritt

Lucky: “It’s all going to go away. You, you, you, you, me, this cigarette, everything… into blackness, the void. And nobody’s in charge, and you’re left with… ungatz.”

Elaine: “And what do you do with that?”

Howard: “What do you do with that?”

Lucky: “You smile.”

If there was one thing I loved watching it was Harry Dean Stanton onscreen, he was as honest an actor as there ever was or will ever be in this world. For me, like many, the first time I remember watching him was as the hardy if mono syllabic mechanic in “Alien” (1979), when by then he could have been considered in his midlife, perhaps past ‘it’, in fact he was fifty-three, a time when many actors are in the last throes of a long career. For Stanton the best was yet to come as he would have some of his best and most memorable roles to come. He would appear in some of the greatest and most original director’s films of the following four decades, one of his best in Wim Wenders classic “Paris, Texas” (1984). So, it is fitting that his final performance should be the lead in a movie not only about mortality, but friendship in his final great character, Lucky, surely this can be no coincidence – his own truth shines in this great role.

Of course, the other undeniable fact is that the casting of Stanton is no accident in that this great character actor has been cast by another, in first time director John Carroll Lynch a mainstay of film in all genres, who is the same age Stanton was in that timeless horror movie. It is obvious that Lynch recognizes that Stanton who is a singular talent was the only choice to play Lucky a man at the end of life who is looked on fondly with love by a small knowing community, something both actor and character have in common – this is a thoughtful, touching movie that never descends into cheap emotion or melancholy, something that a first-time director might look to for a shortcut to emotion. That cheapness was never Stanton’s way, it appears that Lynch may be cut from the same cloth.

“Lucky” directed by first timer John Carroll Lynch who is better known and more recognizable as an actor may seem like an odd choice for this subtle screenplay by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, but in fact like many first-time actors turned directors he has been on so many sets with directing legends that he has been able to make this those sets his unofficial film school. It is not just the fact that he has been on a number of sets but Lynch has also been able to cover a number of genres as well as mediums which means he has seen and heard experiences from a wide variety of people in front of, as well as behind the camera. Not only that but as a leading character actor he has the ability to play many parts which lends to the fact that he is able to absorb what is occurring around him – a strength to be sure. With all this taken into account along with the fact that he has appeared in films with a wide range of budgets from independents with no money to big studio movies where budgets can be enormous he knows how to make a dime stretch which he must have here. Finally he is able to being together some true legends such as  Ed Begley Jr.and Tom Skerritt as well as up and coming (compared to the rest of the cast) character actors like Ron Livingston, you get a pretty special film, one that in spirit could be compared to David Lynch’s “The Straight Story” (1999) – that film had a Stanton cameo that was a treat indeed.

The movie tells the story of Lucky a 90-year-old atheist and his struggle against encroaching old age. The film depicts his coming to terms with his own mortality, as he searches for enlightenment in his final days.

This movie is all about mood and performance pure and simple, with of course the weight being borne by Stanton with his famous gruff no nonsense attitude as well as the feelings that he emotes from an audience when they realize as he does that his time on this Earth is limited, with interactions now being rare and cherished by those around him. The supporting cast of Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr.and Tom Skerritt are all perfect with various generations being represented that all have their own history with Hollywood as well as all being incredibly talented actors, give up the limelight so that their costar can take center stage and shine like few times before in his long career. These kind of independent films are made by those actors willing to not only sign on for little or no money, but they use their experience to flesh out the characters that they will play to such an extent as to give the film another dimension not seen by screenwriter or director before and during production, when you are able to cast actors of such expertise that is exactly what you get – this film is all the better for it. Sometimes these performances are found in the edit, I have to imagine Lynch must have been a very happy man when he started viewing the footage.

The center of the film belongs to Stanton, it is here where Lynch allows him to shine with the performance of a song that means more as time rolls by, in Lucky’s life, as well as the life of the song, finally with the life it is celebrating. Those that have seen the exceptionally good documentary “Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction” (2012) will not be surprised by his musical skill, although within that narrative you learn as much about him in this movie that you did in that documentary. But like that documentary it is not the story that is the important part, it is the journey, and in “Lucky” we are let in on the last days of a man whose past is a mystery, but does that matter? The narrative and plot would seem an afterthought, as we all get to know a man that has lived a life but enjoys his own routine in his very old age – he is living the life he has chosen and will meet his end on his terms not others, expectations do not matter to him one iota.

This was not planned as Stanton’s last film, in fact there is one more coming, but this is a fitting tribute to the man who touched so many audiences with his dry wit, his humanity as well as his talent that was evident in all his performances whether he apperared onscreen for a long time, or not. Stanton was a man who knew all the cool people, he was one himself of course, he hung out with Newman, Lynch, Shepard, Kristofferson, Harry and many more on his terms, he was a master at understated performances always holding something back, with a knowing look in his eyes. I feel sad that I will not see him in any new films, but I feel lucky to have known who he was and to be introduced to him because of an Alien, I feel luckier still to have seen this last performance, any viewer should.

“Lucky” will screen at the New Zealand International Film festival 2018.


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