Incredibly, ‘Lucky’, the directorial debut of bearish character actor John Carroll Lynch (‘Fargo’, ‘Zodiac’, ‘The Founder’), and from first-time screenwriters Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, offers cinematic icon Harry Dean Stanton (‘Repo Man’, ‘Alien’) not just his final role but his second leading role in a feature film after 1984’s Wim Wender’s classic, ‘Paris, Texas’.
Similar to the structure of Jim Jarmusch’s recent ‘Paterson’ (and the themes of the Sam Elliot-starring ‘Hero’), ‘Lucky’ depicts the everyday minutiae of its titular protagonist’s routine over the course of several days. The 90-year old man rises, does some quick yoga exercises, walks to the diner for some coffee (doing the crossword while there), buys milk and cigarettes from a local convenience store, loudly exclaims “cunts!” to nobody in particular, heads back home to watch game shows, and eventually winds up at his favourite bar among other regulars.
After an incident with a coffee maker leads to a brush with his own mortality, every stranger Lucky now encounters, like a philosophical ex-Marine (Tom Skerritt), inspires further thoughts of the coming void. Howard (David Lynch), one of the bar’s denizens, agonizes over the disappearance of his 100-year-old tortoise, President Roosevelt, and Lucky seems to be the only one who understands Howard’s pain. An estate lawyer (Ron Livingston) comes to assist the locals with their affairs, and Lucky rudely rails against him, refusing the “help” of a man who, as Lucky sees it, exists to exploit old men like himself for their own gains.
Stanton was a master of underplaying, and it’s a pleasure just to watch him silently regard the world. When the camera moves in for long, revealing close-ups the veteran actor’s face, road-mapped with lines, as he sings ‘Volver Volver’ at a Mexican child’s birthday party, the effect is powerful.
Stanton was a master of underplaying, and it’s a pleasure just to watch him silently regard the world.
John Carroll Lynch matches his leading man’s nonchalant candour with unadorned filmmaking. The cinematography is as solitary as the story of ‘Lucky’ is, much of the time spent simply observing the old man from a respectful near distance. The storytelling is episodic by design, and the director ably finds the ache and confusion in the tiniest deviations from Lucky’s existential patterns. Basically, ‘Lucky’ is not a film about action or events; it’s a finely-detailed character study, a slow film that establishes its premise (growing old is not for wusses) and then goes nowhere.
As final roles go, it’s hard to imagine one more appropriate for Harry Dean Stanton than that of a man who’s long accepted his end as a natural part of existence, and who remains defiantly himself to the last gesture. ‘Lucky’ is a worthy swan song.