Movie Review: Lucky
Director: John Carroll Lynch
by Jason Koenigsberg
The recently deceased Harry Dean Stanton was one of the most beloved character actors of all time. Film aficionados should embrace Lucky, his swan song and final performance as the title role and his best job carrying an entire film since Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984).
Lucky opens up with the sun peering over a desert mountain. It then cuts to a tortoise slowing walking on the sand among saguaro cacti. The tortoise is a symbol for longevity but as the story progresses, it means much more to the film and the audience will be reminded that it is not a turtle.
Without a doubt, the highlight of Lucky is to see the great Harry Dean Stanton in his final major motion picture. He will not disappoint giving a brave, uninhibited and nuanced performance. One might be curious how autobiographical Lucky is for Stanton. The role is perfectly tailored for his acting style. It magnifies his greatest skills in front of the camera. Once he started sharing was stories at a diner with another veteran played by Tom Skerritt, Stanton is describing his actual military experiences during World War II as a cook in the Navy on the Pacific front. It is impossible to imagine another actor playing this role, and very easy to imagine that this is how Harry Dean Stanton was in real life. He even gets to show off his musical talent both with the harmonica and his exceptional singing voice, in Spanish nonetheless.
The movie itself is a noble portrait of strength developed from years of living alone. Lucky examines aging as a natural process and Lucky the man has the good fortune to be able to reflect on a life well lived. The supporting cast contains memorable moments from actors who make the most of their scenes. Barry Shabaka Henley as the proprietor of a local diner, Ed Begley Jr. as Lucky’s physician, and David Lynch in a rare acting role in a film he is not directing, plays a local bar fly who is the one searching for his lost tortoise. David Lynch and Harry Dean Stanton have collaborated so many times over the years, most recently on the new season of Twin Peaks, it is great to see them share scenes and have conversations about friendship, mortality and fate one last time.
Lucky is reminiscent of a Jim Jarmusch movie, more than a David Lynch film. It is a meandering meditation about an atheist coming to terms with his own mortality and thankfully never gets too preachy or obvious with its dialogue or symbolism. This movie is a life affirming celebration of what we have during our short time on Earth, no matter how small or meager. The acting is the focal point in Lucky but credit must be given to John Carroll Lynch (no relation to David that I know of). He is a character actor who has appeared in many films (Fargo, Zodiac, The Founder) and used his experiences from working with so many talented people over the years to make an assured directorial debut and manages to get great performances from everyone on screen. He also utilizes music expertly throughout the film, especially in a montage using a Johnny Cash film to reveal the fear deep inside our main character.
Harry Dean Stanton’s atheist Lucky has a cynical view of life and illustrates that it is never too late to learn about yourself and make a positive impact in peoples lives. We have seen this story before with different actors. Richard Farnsworth gave an outstanding final performance in The Straight Story (1999) directed by David Lynch and starring Harry Dean Stanton as Farnsworth’s estranged brother who has only one scene at the very end, but boy is that a memorable and poignant moment that ties the entire film together. Lucky is Harry Dean Stanton’s Straight Story. It covers similar themes at a similar pace. Other great actors have had their own movies that deal with their age and mortality like Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt (2002) and Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino (2008). Lucky is thematically derivative of those films, and inferior in several ways. It is just such a pleasure to see an underrated talent Harry Dean Stanton have his swan song executed so eloquently.