LUCKY is a fitting tribute to the sustained talent of Harry Dean Stanton who died last September at the spritely age of 91. Until the end, he was a marvel in front of the camera. Think Alien. Think Repo Man. Think Wise Blood.
In this swansong, Stanton plays Lucky, a curmudgeonly Second World War veteran who spends his days at home somewhere in the outback of Arizona struggling to complete crossword puzzles – and his nights drinking a Bloody Mary or two at the local bar.
To stay fit, he does a bit of yoga, performs his unique version of the press up and walks everywhere – to the coffee shop, the bar and the food store. He waters his outside plants in underwear that leave nothing to the imagination. He is as thin as a rake. Matchstick man. Rarely seen without an unfiltered cigarette either hanging out of his mouth or lying in an ash tray awaiting his attention.
Despite his truculence and his obstinacy, Lucky is loved by most of those who know him. By Jo (Barry Shabaka Henley) and Loretta (Yvonne Huff) who run the café where he sips coffee, a crossword puzzle as his companion. And by the owners of the bar where he sits in his regular seat in the corner, next to Howard (David Lynch) who bemoans the loss of the love of his life – an 100 year old tortoise. Should Howard seek him out or let him roam free?
There are skirmishes along the way – a near brawl with insurance salesman Bobby (Ron Livingston) whom he accuses of trying to fleece Howard. A verbal exchange with frustrated Doctor Christian Kneedler (Ed Begley Junior) whose remedy for a fainting episode is to give Lucky a lollipop. There are also heated moments in the bar when Lucky threatens to light up, much to the consternation of owner Elaine (a super Beth Grant).
Every day he passes the entrance to a bar he has been banned from for smoking, but not before offloading a rather crude expletive.
In amongst the stroppiness, there are some tender moments. For example, the day Loretta comes to visit him unexpectedly, much to his consternation. They end up smoking weed and watching Liberace on the television weave his magic on the piano. Lucky mellows before your eyes. For a moment, his hard exterior fractures a little.
And also when he pops up at the birthday party of the son of the woman (Bibi, played by Bertila Damas) who runs the local store where he buys his milk from. Unexpectedly, he suddenly bursts into song (Volver Volver), much to the joy of Bibi, her son, mother and Mexican guests. A magical and moving moment.
There is also a thought provoking scene when an ex-Marine (Ted Skerritt, also owner of a well lived-in face) comes into the café and gets talking to Lucky. They share war experiences – the marine’s far more harrowing than Lucky’s who spent most of his time peeling potatoes aboard ship.
Of course, the film, directed by John Carroll Lynch, contains some mighty performances – Grant, Huff, Damas and Henley are all excellent as are James Darren (Paulie, Elaine’s partner) and Hugo Armstrong (the bartender). But none is mightier than that delivered by the gnarled Harry Dean Stanton. An actor who despite physical frailty plied his trade with distinction until the end. As good in his 90s as he was throughout his acting career.
A sublime performance. If only like the tortoise in the film (traipsing among the cacti, happy as Larry and far happier than Howard), Stanton could have lived until he was 200.
See Lucky and then count yourself lucky to have watched such a performance.