Very few actors have been afforded a send-off as fitting as Harry Dean Stanton has in Lucky. Throughout his 6 decades of working across both film and television, Lucky, next to his most substantial screen-time turn in 1984’s road movie Paris, Texas, stands as a true showcase for the actor; regardless of the film arriving after his death, it would still be deemed a milestone in his career.
Stanton plays the titular Lucky, a simple man of sorts who lives in a small unnamed Western town where his routines are simple and consistent. A morning cigarette, a brief work-out, breakfast at the local diner, mulling over the daily crossword, a stroll to the local store to buy another pack of cigarettes, an odd stop to yell obscenities into a golden orb monument of sorts, and, finally, an evening drink at the local bar.
Given how seemingly mundane Lucky’s existence is, the irony in his name is not lost, but upon digging deeper into his characterisation (courtesy of first-time scribes Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja) we come to see it’s a fitting description. He smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, yet his doctor (Ed Begley Jr.) informs him his lungs show no sign of damage, he served in the Navy but worked in the kitchen rather than on the battlefield, and he speaks of love with no sign of experiencing heartbreak. This is a man who perhaps doesn’t realise his blessings, and John Carroll Lynch‘s film (Lynch, a fellow character actor with credits such as Fargo, Zodiac, and Shutter Island to his name, making his directorial debut) revels in the organic pacing of unveiling Lucky’s eccentric psyche with subtlety, as opposed to the broad comedic strokes a cantankerous character such as Stanton’s could’ve adopted.
As both simplistic and complex as Stanton’s performance is, and ultimately the sole reason Lucky deserves to be seen, the film is no-less impressive in its supporting categories with Lynch casting the film with the type of committed performers who are more familiar by face than by name (Ron Livingston as a young attorney who spars with Lucky over the importance of writing a will, Beth Grant as the feisty bar owner, Tom Skerritt as a WWII vet who shares painful memories of his time serving), save for director David Lynch‘s rather glorious turn as a man dealing with the loss of his beloved tortoise.
Given just how many films Stanton appeared in over the course of his vast career – Cool Hand Luke, Alien, Pretty In Pink, The Green Mile, and The Avengers to name a selection of highlights – it’s a shame that there’s perhaps a whole generation of cinema goers unversed in his uniqueness, and Lucky will arguably be the type of feature only sought out by serious cinephiles due to its understated nature. Much like the character though, Lucky deserves to be noticed, and if you truly value cinema and the importance of an actor’s craft, you’ll make the effort to appreciate this affecting swan song.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Lucky is in limited release in Australia from 16th November 2017.