Three Reasons to Watch: Lucky
Every week, Curzon or a guest editor recommends a key film from the Curzon Home Cinema collection. This week, we celebrate the career of Harry Dean Stanton and his swansong performance.
Lucky is a 90-year-old atheist. He lives in a small town out in the West, not far from the border with Mexico. His days pass by almost uneventfully. There’s the walk through town to the diner for the breakfast coffee, followed by some watching the world go by relaxation, even a sleep, and ending with a visit to the local bar. But Lucky has been warned by his doctor that he must change his ways if he wants to carry on living. Then again, why should he?
The premise of actor John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut is simple. And without the right lead it could have failed. But in casting Harry Dean Stanton he has created a fascinating, funny and, by its end, moving character portrait. Stanton died shortly after filming completed. But Lucky isn’t a memorial for its star. It’s a celebration of an actor who could bring charm, wit and charisma to even the smallest of roles.
You’ll know Stanton’s face, even if you aren’t familiar with his name. He’s the archetypal American character actor, the kind of performer who’s been a staple of Hollywood and independent cinema since the 1940s. As a screen presence, they may not have had matinee idol looks, but there was an expressiveness that added to the riches of any story. Dean Stanton’s – by turns craggy, expressive and, when needed, ambiguous – seemed perfectly suited to America’s vast landscape. He could do cities. He could even do outer space. But there was always a folksiness to his presence that hinted at his characters’ origins.
Stanton started out in TV in the 1950s, when there was a boom in crime, cop and western shows. He was good in Cool Hand Luke (1967), appeared in Terrence Malick’s now impossible-to-see debut short Lanton Mills (1969). Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and Cisco Pike (1972) hinted at the style of character he would become known for.
He had roles in Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Pt II (1974), but it was two roles in 1979 that shaped his on-screen persona. He was excellent in John Huston’s Wise Blood and excelled as Brett, the second victim of the ravenous creature in Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Then came his two most acclaimed performances. He was the mentor to Emilio Estevez’s rebel in Alex Cox’s cult classic Repo Man and a man lost to the world in Wim Wenders’ Cannes-winning Paris, Texas (both 1984). He appeared in dozens of films after this, rarely the star but often the scene stealer. (Such as his small but gem of a role in 2012’s Avengers Assemble.)
Lucky is a perfect Stanton showcase because Lynch directs at the pace of the 90-year-old’s (as Stanton was when he made the film) movement. It’s a languorous treat. The actor relishes the dialogue, playfully delivering the often acerbic put-downs. It’s a masterclass in acting that seems to entail doing nothing when it’s all about the smallest movements and expressions. It’s sad that there won’t be any more Harry Dean Stanton performances. But then, with a filmography as large as his, it will take a lifetime to watch them all.
Three reasons to watch Lucky
John Carroll Lynch perfectly captures the rhythms and colour of small-town life. Like John Sayles’ more expansive and political Lone Star (1995), Lucky highlights the perfect assimilation of the white US and Mexican population.
The cameos. From Tom Skerritt to a game and amusing David Lynch, the film features a constant flow of characters rich and strange.
Harry’s song. Anyone who has seen the documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction will know the actor is a fine blues singer. But here he sings a Spanis ballad and with his slightly faltering voice it’s one of the film’s high points.
Lucky is available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema, and it’s FREE to watch for all new joiners! Find it in the Welcome Collection.