A 90-year-old atheist has outlived and out-smoked his contemporaries, and as he comes to terms with his own mortality, he searches for ever-elusive enlightenment.
Harry Dean Stanton first made an impression on me as a child when I saw him in “Alien.” While I never thought of him as a great actor, he had onscreen charisma in spades. While attending film school in Dublin back in the late ’80s, watching him repeatedly in “Paris, Texas” became a class tradition and my respect for him grew exponentially. He continued to carve out a niche for himself playing offbeat characters in films such as “Christine,” “Repo Man,” and “Wild at Heart” but with this year’s “Lucky,” he didn’t appear to be playing a character, rather, a slightly exaggerated version of himself. And we are all the better off because of it.
Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) is a U.S. Navy veteran who lives in a small Arizona town in the middle of nowhere. Well into his nineties, his doctor is constantly surprised just how healthy he is, taking into consideration he still smokes at least one pack of cigarettes a day. Lucky has a daily routine: first thing in the morning he wakes up to a cigarette, exercises, visits the local coffee shop to do his crossword puzzle, walks around town, watches game shows in the afternoon, and then finishes every evening at the local bar. This has been his routine for years but things change when one day, he collapses onto the floor. His doctor, Christian (Ed Begley Jr.) can’t find anything wrong with him and reinforces the fact that because of his age, his body will slowly and gradually, begin to shut down. Lucky seems unfazed but as he continues his routine, it slowly dawns on him that he is indeed, getting older and is at an age that most people never reach. Suddenly, his own mortality comes into view, and he can’t help but take a look at his life and see where he came from, and what he can do with the remainder of his life.
The film moves at a snail’s pace but it is a very intriguing and absorbing slice of life. Lucky does the exact same thing day in and day out with seemingly no change in attitude but after his collapse, which his doctor cannot explain, putting it down to his age, Lucky begins to think outside of the little box he cemented himself in decades earlier. He was never married, has no children, and is quite content doing absolutely nothing every day, after all, he’s earned that right but Stanton’s craggy old face begins to show signs of life, for the first time in years, especially when he is invited to a Hispanic birthday party and silently observes the large family enjoying the celebration and to everybody’s surprise, begins singing in Mexican, accompanied by three mariachis. It looks like Lucky has a few surprises up his sleeve after all.
Stanton’s “Alien” co-star Tom Skerritt cameos in a scene where both men meet for the first time in a diner and share stories from their time in the military during World War II, Lucky being a Navy veteran while Skerrit’s Fred is an ex-Marine. It’s a short scene but both characters describe some horror stories from their experiences in Saipan where the Japanese threw themselves off cliffs in order to avoid capture by the Americans and the moment is so descriptive, it has more impact on you than any visual reference could ever have achieved. Ron Livingston and filmmaker David Lynch (who directed Stanton in “Wild at Heart” and “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me”) appear throughout the movie and shine in their small but respective roles. As is the norm with so many films of this ilk, by the time the finale rolls around, the aged, grizzled character passes away but thankfully, director John Carroll Lynch doesn’t let that happen, instead, in the movie’s final shot, Lucky walks off towards the setting Arizona sun, just as a tortoise moves into frame and casually walks across the screen, reminding us that even in his nineties, Stanton was an unstoppable force and still faster than most.
Now available on DVD