Harry Dean Stanton was never quite an A-Lister. He worked in semi-obscurity for decades, only starting to make a name for himself in his fifties with roles in Ridley Scott’s Alien, Alex Cox’s Repo Man and Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. But while superstardom eluded him he nevertheless became a revered character actor with a cult following. When he died last year, aged 91, he left behind a formidable list of credits, working with everyone from Joss Whedon to Martin Scorsese.
It’s hard to imagine a more fitting epitaph than Lucky, one of his final roles, in which he plays a semi-autobiographical character who ponders his mortality and whether life has is truly meaningful or just a cosmic blip. The film marks the directorial debut of John Carroll Lynch, who, much like Stanton, is a highly respected actor whose face you’ll likely recognise, even if you don’t know the name.
The eponymus Lucky (Stanton) is a 90 year old living in a small town in the American south. He is known and liked by the community but occasionally alienates with his grim philosophical outlook. At his favourite diner he exchanges a daily, nihilisitc greeting of “You’re nothing.” with Joe, the owner. Despite his disposition, Lucky seems to be fairly content living a life of familiar places and familiar faces. Then, one morning, he collapses in his kitchen. A doctor (Ed Begley Jr) tells him there is no medical explanation for the fall except his advanced age. This frustrates Lucky and forces him to comes to grips with something he had seemingly been ignoring: death is coming. He begins to see everything through death-tinted glasses. The next time he goes to the diner there are young people in his usual spot. He threatens to fight a lawyer (Ron Livingston) who is helping to arrange a will for his friend Howard (Played, surprisingly, by David Lynch, who has collaborated with Stanton on several occasions). Lucky finds that his dark attitude to existence is of no use when you can practically hear the Reaper sharpening his sythe.
The film’s strength comes from its authenticity. The title role was written specifically for Stanton and the character is given much of the same biographical details (Originally from Kentucky, served as a cook in the U.S. Navy, never married or had children, is generally curmudgeonly). The script is decent but rough around the edges and occasionally a bit too kooky for its own good. John Carroll Lynch keeps his direction simple and modest. The appeal here comes from Stanton. Visibly frail, delivering his lines with a weak, husky voice, you are all too aware that he is not just pretending to be a man who is nearing the end of his life. However his charisma remains completely intact and this quiet, charming film is a fitting goodbye to one of cinema’s most distinctive actors.
Dir: John Carroll Lynch
Scr: Logan Sparks, Drago Sumonja
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Ron Livingston, David Lynch, Ed Begley Jr, Tom Skerritt, James Darren, Beth Grant, Barry Shabaka Henley.
Prd: Ira Steven Behr, Danielle Renfrew, John Boccardo, Robert A. Compton, Greg Gilreath, Bill Harnisch, Joshua A.H. Harris, Adam Hendricks, Richard Kahan, John H. Lang, Jason Delane Lee, Jeff Rodman, Matthew Soraci, Logan Sparks, Drago Sumonja.
DOP: Tim Suhrstedt
Runtime: 88 minutes