Harry Dean Stanton gives the performance of a lifetime in John Carroll Lynch’s richly amusing shaggy-dog story.
Editor's Note: Throughout March and April, we’re celebrating Great Westerns of the 21st Century — noteworthy movies and TV series with special appeal to C&I readers that have premiered since 2001. Check the Entertainment tab Monday through Friday to see a different recommendation by C&I senior writer Joe Leydon. And be on the lookout for our upcoming May/June 2020 print edition, which prominently features the legendary star who looms large in two of this century’s very best westerns.
OK, we freely admit it: Director John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky is not, strictly speaking a western. But this wise and well-crafted indie movie does showcase C&I reader favorite Harry Dean Stanton in one of his final film performances — and it’s set in the sort of off-the-grid desert community where time often seems to stand still, and the narrative concocted by scripters Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja probably could accommodate aging cowboys, if not retired gunslingers, with only minor adjustments.
Stanton — who passed away at age 91 a few months before Lucky kicked off its theatrical run in 2017 — has the title role as Lucky, a doggedly self-sufficient eccentric who, despite his proudly independent streak, appears to enjoy more often than not his interactions with neighbors and acquaintances. (Chief among the latter: Twin Peaks creator David Lynch, stepping onto the other side of the cameras to play, wonderfully well, the anxious owner of a runaway pet tortoise.) Having outlived and out-smoked all of his contemporaries, he finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self-exploration and heading, he hopes, toward achieving a goal that is too often unattainable: enlightenment.
As I wrote in my original Variety review from Austin’s SXSW Film Festival: “Lucky is something a good deal more substantial than the cinematic equivalent of a lifetime achievement award. It’s also a stealthily affecting and unpretentiously thoughtful meditation on community and mortality, and existential dread and transcendence, in the form of a richly amusing shaggy-dog story that features Stanton’s finest performance since Paris, Texas...
“The best way to appreciate Lucky is to take a deep breath, free your mind, and go with the unhurried flow for 88 minutes. Take time to savor all of its disparate elements — including, on the pitch-perfect soundtrack, a harmonica rendition of ‘Red River Valley’ performed by Stanton — and ponder its teasing ambiguities. More important, relish every detail of Stanton’s matter-of-factly fearless portrayal of a man who ran out of damns to give a long time ago, but still wants to make a graceful exit. It is, quite simply, the performance of a lifetime."
Lucky is now available to Hulu subscribers, and is can be streamed on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes and other platforms.