One year ago, the great Harry Dean Stanton passed away at the age of 91, just months after Lucky premiered at the SXSW Film Festival, 2017. It was poignant and felt almost planned that this should be his final lead performance – a spiritual journey grappling with mortality – and makes watching the film an entirely different experience. But it is not a morbid one.
An acclaimed character actor in his own right, John Carroll Lynch steps behind the camera for the first time with a beautiful screenplay by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja (written entirely around Stanton with elements of his own life and beliefs written into the role) and he delivers a film that strongly earns the accolade of one of the best films of 2017 (its year of initial release in the states) and one of the best of 2018 for those in the UK. A bold claim, but one that is strongly deserved.
Lucky (Stanton), a 90-year-old atheist living in a quirky town full of quirky individuals, has outlived and outsmoked his contemporaries. After suffering the first negative side effect of old age – a fall at home – he is thrust into a journey of self-exploration and must come to terms with his mortality as he searches for ever-elusive enlightenment.
Serving as a fitting farewell to the iconic actor, the film encompasses everything Harry Dean Stanton was: the gruff outsider, the smoker. Stanton was never going to be the hero, or the love interest. But he commanded the attention of anyone and everyone who ever experienced even one of his smallest roles. Here, he is given an entire film to carry and does so without breaking a sweat. Every wrinkle on his face, every silence, every step he makes tells a story and pulls us into the film’s dusty, sun-drenched world. The viewer does not watch Lucky complete his daily routine, they join him on it. This is the closest many will get to spending time with the beloved raconteur, and serves as a very worthy substitute.
Stunning cinematography from Tim Suhrstedt reinforces the film’s tribute-like feel, framing Harry Dean as the mythical-esque figure that he is. Stanton is on screen for almost the entire 90-minute runtime, and his company never grows tiresome. While there is an element of sadness in the air that this is the final word of the icon, it is a bittersweet feeling. Audiences can be grateful that Stanton had the opportunity to, unwittingly or not, commit this cinematic farewell for generations of his fans still to come.
Everything about this film is perfect. The stellar direction from John Carroll Lynch, the supporting performances led by a wonderful turn from David Lynch, the screenplay from Sparks and Sumonja, the visuals and beyond. But most importantly, the powerful yet understated final performance from a master.
A poignant and hilarious examination of old age and a touching tribute to a cinema icon, Lucky is a masterpiece destined for cult status.