Zodiac Killer
Cinema Signal:

Drugs and the Performance Horse

. "Lucky Number Slevin"

This mystery game of betrayal and deceit starts off with the doping of a high-odds racehorse to create a high-paying winner. Word of it trickles through the betting community and reaches a poor sucker who places a $10K bet with bookie Roth (Danny Aiello), who explains the odds and that the bet becomes a debt of $22K if the horse loses. Such a debt would be laid off on various collectors of the give-no-mercy criminal variety, he warns. But, the guy goes ahead with it, dreaming of sure things and big riches.

Just before the finish line, the horse, out in front for several furlongs, keels over and dies. And so does the man and his innocent wife, after being shot at point blank range. Not every one hired by the crime bosses would nail a kid, but sure enough, a they find a hitman who is willing and we see it as he aims his gun into the tousle haired head of the boy. We're spared the bullet and blood effects.

And then, things get wiry. What might have been a straight ahead, linear story with lots of revenge killings and the exploits of pros, gets slapped on an editing bench for a skewing through a mixmaster of time lapse, flashback, lightning cuts and cutaways. But, it's all right, because unlike some others of its genre and type ("Haven"), it works.

It takes a very twisty journey in the high rises and low streets of NYC that includes the arrival of Slevin (Josh Hartnett) who, immediately upon arrival at the airport, gets mugged and his nose knocked off kilter. When he arrives at the apartment of his buddy, he finds the apartment empty. With a spare key, he enters with plans for a rehabilitative shower. Almost naked when the doorbell rings, he wraps a towel around himself and runs to the door and lets in... Lindsey (Lucy Liu), his buddy's next-door neighbor looking for a cup of sugar. Did she know she'd find it in a perfectly compliant, undressed Slevin?

Okay, now that the romantic element of the movie is established, the next knock on the door moves the story along. Due to the fact that his missing buddy owes a lot of money to two rival crime bosses, and the other fact that he's the only one found living in the debtor's digs, his next visitors are two thugs on orders to take him to their Boss (Morgan Freeman) for a little interview about $96,000. His not being the right guy notwithstanding, His condition of near nakedness likewise.

The meeting is more a negotiation... no, an offer. The Boss's son has been killed in a professional hit and and the presumption is it was his rival's gang that did it. if Slevin will kill his rival's son in return, the debt he owes will go away. Slevin isn't thrilled with the choice, but he takes it.

Back in his apartment, another set of thugs appear at the door with a similar assignment, to take him to their boss, The Rabbi. The two curly haired Hasidic Jews escort him to The Rabbi's penthouse which is directly opposite The Boss's. They spend a lot of time eyeing each other threateningly from their respective windows. When Slevin arrives, he also ingnores the identity of the still half-clad visitor and cites the problem with the debt he owes. At least it's smaller, but his demands carry the same weight. Slevin is caught on two barbed hooks.

Watching all of this with keen interest and laid back bemusement is world-class hit man Goodkat (Bruce Willis) and, separately, relentless copper Detective Brikowski (Stanley Tucci) who has no idea who Slevin is or where he came from. It seems like a convoluted plot for all the interested parties to do what has to be done before anyone can do it to you. In fact, that's exactly what it is. And the fun level rises as Slevin and Lindsey fall hard for each other and as time shifts catch up enough to reveal the intricate machinery of debt and distrust, murder and revenge, heaps of brutality and over-the-top cruelty. Sherlock Holmes was never so slick.

Directed by Paul McGuigan from a script by Jason Smilovic, aided and abetted by a first rate cast (Robert Forster included, in a great turn), this is sparkling and edgy--demented entertainment that keeps challenging you to figure who's what, and how it all comes together. A great part of the film's virtue is in giving original, noirish material to such exemplary talents and letting them pull it off with class and style... if you don't mind the wool being pulled over your eyes, and a slashed carotid or two.

The sound part is covered with contributing excitement ("Kansas City Shuffle" by The Rumor Mill) and pace, as is the photography and art direction.

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Lucy Liu and Josh Hartnett
Oh, Slevin, where've you been all my life?
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