The final film of heralded actor Harry Dean Stanton proves he’s more than just a ‘Lucky’ face amongst the crowd. Lucky (Stanton) is an old US Navy veteran of rigid habits and attitudes in a small town. When his routine is interrupted by a sudden collapse at home, Lucky finds himself realizing that his remarkably healthy old age is going to face an inevitable decline and he has to accept it and learn to live with such a disposition. In that difficult reassessment, Lucky must face up to what he believes in and how much it compares to his neighbors’ contrasting priorities. In doing so, Lucky finds that his life has its positive side as he searches for some meaning that he can accept. Actor John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut ‘Lucky’, is at once a meditation on morality, loneliness, spirituality, and human connection that binds us in the face of change. ‘Lucky’ is currently Not rated, but does have adult language throughout.
‘Lucky’ is a somber and cynical diatribe for one man’s account of a constant uphill climb with the inevitable battle that we all someday face. That man is Harry Dean Stanton, and as far as posthumous film offerings are concerned, this is as perfect as it gets for a triumphant actor who wears the many trials and tribulations of 91 years on his face. Due to the proximity of Stanton’s real life untimely death, the film feels like the closest that we will ever get to seeing someone living out their last days for an entertaining media that has followed him through decades of memorable roles that have carved out a real iron man for Hollywood’s elite. Because of that set-up for a film of this caliber, it feels like everything that Stanton has said and done throughout has been building to this moment in his career, and the big fear that his character speaks of in the film is one that carries with it an even heavier weight because this final chapter bridging this character and real life figure hits us with the constant reminder that we are being treated to the rare opportunity to see art imitating life.
For my money, the film has a very spiritual side not only with the impending doom of death, but also with the value of living for the moment while we have it. There are many metaphors and subplots within Lynch’s film to support this opinion, but none more glaring than that of its title character. It’s funny how even the name “Lucky” can mean so much to so many people in this film. For him, it kind of comes with a sarcastic definition that everyone calls him lucky, but when he looks in the mirror he can’t understand why. To him, the struggle of repetition has grounded the expectations that he once had for his life, giving in to the feelings of loneliness and anger that overtake him on more than one instance during the film. For those telling him, that luck involves him living for an incredibly long time despite being a heavy smoker, drinker, and an overall rolling ball of utter contempt. The screenplay meets us somewhere in the middle of this stark contrast, and its poignancy in a positive but brash subtlety is what constantly kept the film entertaining for me through some dry spells in repetition that might hinder the pacing for an average moviegoer.
The production quality in cinematography and artistic vision is incredible for someone helming their first film, but Lynch is someone whose vital experience in front of the camera clearly have crafted him for a career behind it. The very setting of this almost desert town feeds into the constant feeling of seclusion that corners Lucky into these very tight spaces like his house and the local bar, where he spends a majority of his time. The shot selection seconds this idea by tightening up on the framing and zooming of every respective angle so that no word from any line of witty dialogue goes missed. I also greatly enjoyed the very eclectic musical score that involved harmonica instrumentals and a mariachi band that gives off that close to the border kind of vibe. Not to be outdone by the professionals however, Stanton proves there’s nothing he can’t do, and even involves himself on a mouthing of the harmonica to the song ‘Red River Valley’ that will tug on the heartstrings of anyone who is running out of minutes with this legend of the silver screen.
Speaking of which, Stanton himself is no doubt a tour de force in this film, but he gets help from friends and co-stars alike who push this campaign. Longtime friend and collaborator David Lynch appears as the best friend of sorts to Lucky in this film. What I like about this is that once again it is cropping real life for the camera, depicting Stanton and Lynch as two buzzards who have flown around the coop a time or two. It’s in Lynch’s soft, childlike delivery that the eyes of Lucky start to open to the inevitable, and it’s proof that no matter what happens in this first battle of life, the unsettling realities of a war being lost later on is a certainty. Ron Livingston also makes a satisfying entrance as a life insurance salesman who angers and opposes Lucky’s peaceful bubble of ignorance. While only in the film for two scenes, Ron takes the reigns momentarily, echoing a message of urgency for the youth who feel untouchable because of a number. As for Harry himself, he commands Lucky superbly, complete with his unapologetically dry sense of humor and humbling sarcasm that make this character one of my personal favorites of 2017. The thing with acting is that it’s always a transformation for an actor in becoming their fictional counterpart, but there’s something entirely original with what Stanton does here. He is Lucky. We know it and so does the movie, and that’s why the opening shot in bold letters says “HARRY DEAN STANTON IS LUCKY”. Stanton doesn’t act for this role…he IS this role. No character necessary.
As far as problems go, I had two that diminished my score minimally. The first is as I mentioned earlier in the pacing. Because this film has a lack of defined plot or progression within that narrative, this won’t be the most entertaining sit for the entirety of audiences. To me, 83 minutes is definitely the fine amount of time to go with for this film, but you can definitely feel the pinch of material early on, forcing the first act through some sluggish movements. My other problem was with a scene late in the film that took place between Lucky and another Spanish speaking person. What bothers me is that they have this five minute conversation, as well as a surprise that happens afterwards, yet we don’t ever get the privilege of knowing what was said because of no subtitles. Their conversation can be felt in emotional response between the two, and maybe that is the point, but to me I feel the reactions of characters more when I know everything that is being said between them, and because of such, this scene just kind of passed me by without the kind of connection that I had to the rest of the movie.
THE VERDICT – ‘Lucky’ is a rare but reflective glance at the final steps artistically of a firestorm actor who turns back the hands of time for one more day in the sun. Lynch’s debut effort was always going to be solid with Stanton in tow, but this director is no slouch, providing a gorgeous meditation of life reflection that hints that we’re all lucky in more ways than one. Few films actually take you on a rollercoaster of release anymore, but Lynch’s war with the inevitable, combined with Stanton’s warmhearted goodbye will serve as an abstract portrait that is open to plenty of emotional interpretation.