Lucky is a marvellous coda to Harry Dean Stanton’s incredible career. Few actors can warrant such a final movie as this, one that is intrinsically linked to the actor himself, yet does not feel naval gazing or wallowing in self-indulgence.
Harry Dean Stanton is the quintessential character actor, rarely the leading man (apart from his iconic turn as Travis Henderson in Wim Wenders’ masterpiece Pairs, Texas) however Stanton’s career has seen him deliver more memorable performances than most A list Hollywood stars could ever dream of. Working since the 50s with directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Sam Peckinpah, Arthur Penn, Ridley Scott, Alex Cox, John Hughes, Frank Darabont, David Lynch and not to mention a genuinely scene stealing cameo in Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble. One can fully explore the history of American film through his work, but more so the depth of and variety of the stories he’s been a part of reveal a fascinating insight into recent touch points of American culture at large.
Stanton is the titular Lucky, a 90-year-old cantankerous loner in a small desert town. We witness his daily routine of cigarettes, yoga, TV game shows and trips to the local diner, store and bar where he makes cutting conversations with the towns local characters who seem to simultaneously find him alienating and difficult, but also treat him with a genuine warmth, concern and most of all understanding of him and his demeanour.
This is a film that’s minimal in plot but deep in tone, feeling and meaning. Following a fall, Lucky visits his doctor who passes him with a clean bill of health (despite smoking at least a pack of cigarettes a day) and reveals that he is in a unique position as someone who is close to the end of his time on this mortal coil and is in the position to fully look at, appreciate and analyse what happens at the end of their life. Lucky shrugs off this advise from his doctor but the audience are left to roll with this concept as the film plays out.
As Lucky somewhat reluctantly faces oblivion while life goes on around him, the scenes that follow take us deeper into the man and our own ruminations on life and death. Lucky speaks of his past in the navy in a quietly shattering scene with a Marine vet (played by Tom Skerritt – in a sweet reunion following both actors terrors on the Nostromo in Alien), he consoles his friend Howard (brilliantly played by David Lynch) on his missing tortoise “President Roosevelt”, he attempts fisticuffs with an out of town lawyer, smokes weed with the local waitress, address his barfly buddies with nuggets of astute wisdom and brazen dismissal of other peoples points of view, and unexpectedly steals the show singing a Mexican folksong at a local families fiesta.
Throughout these scenes Harry Dean Stanton quietly but undoubtedly reveals the power of great acting and storytelling allowing space for the audience to step into the scene and feel the vibe, we are not being lectured by Lucky on his perspective on life and death but we allowed in to explore these ideas with him – but ultimately here Lucky always has the last word. Adios HDS!
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