After an acting career spanning more than six decades and a life lasting 91 years, Harry Dean Stanton died last week. Stanton was never much of a leading man; this is not a insult to his abilities, but a fact of consistency. Due as much to his own lack of interest as Hollywood's, Stanton appeared mostly in supporting roles, with notable exceptions, like his iconic role in Wim Wenders' 1984 Paris, Texas. As if intended as a farewell gift before parting ways, Lucky gives us a rare, final leading performance from Stanton.
The film does not feel this way only because of the timing of Stanton's death, but also due to its subject matter. Stanton stars as Lucky, a man embarking on a confrontation with mortality in his small town desert home. Lucky's got his routine; he does yoga, gets dressed, goes to a diner for coffee and crosswords, then sees his friends at a bar at night. After a sudden fall leaves him shaken, a doctor informs Lucky that he's not ill, just old, and everybody's got to die sometime.
Filled with close-ups of the unique naturalism in Stanton's face and philosophical exchanges with the people populating the town, its a film fit for its star. It is directed by another character actor, John Carroll Lynch, and filled with supporting roles by other actors who have made long careers out of small parts; Ed Begley Jr, Beth Grant, Tom Skerritt, Ron Livingston. In one of the film's greatest touches, David Lynch plays a friend of Lucky's who's dealing with the emotional toll his tortoise's escape is having on him.
It's difficult to quite put a finger on what works about the film's oddball spiritualism. It's not filled with directorial flourishes from first-timer Lynch (John Carroll, not David), which could have made the rambling quirky existentialism of the script by similar first-timers Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks fall into a grating pretentiousness. What really holds the film together is this cast of people who are most definitely not first-timers, led by Harry Dean Stanton's hipster cowboy, a stoic John Wayne for the crowd that would rather watch David Lynch than John Ford.
Part of our AIFF 2017 Review Roundup.