One thing always bothers me when I shop for a card for my wedding anniversary — most of them sound like apologies. “I’m sorry I never tell you how much you mean to me, but …” I like to think that I appreciate my spouse throughout the year, not just on one symbolic day. So, I’m not really interested in giving her a card that reads like a list of all my shortcomings as a husband. I’m not perfect, but I do acknowledge her importance to me more than once a year.
Similarly, when a veteran character actor dies, the media coverage is full of how under-appreciated he or she was during his or her career. When it comes to Harry Dean Stanton, nothing could be further from the truth. He was a character actor’s character actor whose skill and craft was well-known to his co-stars and film fans around the world. So, this review will not be a lament for Harry Dean Stanton. His lasting impact on film was established long ago. He will be missed, but his passing will in no way diminish his vast body of work that will live on for years to come.
In Lucky, the new film from actor/director John Carroll Lynch, Stanton plays a 90-year-old man who lives the life of a seasoned retired person. Calisthenics in the morning are followed by a modest breakfast. Then he walks to the local diner for a cup of coffee and a crossword puzzle. His days usually end on a bar stool at a local watering hole with a couple of Bloody Mary’s. His drinking is enlivened by his bar buddies played by James Darren, David Lynch, Beth Grant and Hugo Armstrong. (I could watch Lynch talk about his pet tortoise, President Roosevelt, for hours. Maybe there’s a strange children’s film in there somewhere.) It’s a comfortable, if very predictable, life until Lucky has a fainting episode and begins contemplating his own mortality.
The film is a small-scale character drama with modest ambitions, and it is wholly successful in carrying out its intentions. The performances are subtle as is the subtext of the film. The desert surroundings serve as a metaphor for Lucky’s life. The environment is hostile to life, but it flourishes anyway. When someone tells Lucky that he should stop smoking because cigarettes are going to kill him, he mutters: “If they could’ve, they would’ve.”
The promotional materials and IMDB listing mention the “spiritual journey” taken by Harry Dean Stanton’s character. However, it’s worth pointing out that this is not a faith-based film. It’s not the tale of an atheist finding religion in his final days. Lucky thinks that death leads to nothingness, to The Void. Such beliefs may serve a younger man just fine, but when you’ve entered the last lap of your life, there’s little comfort in such a world view. Lucky explores the life of a tough man who fought in World War II, but now faces an enemy that can’t be defeated — time.
One can only wonder how much of Lucky’s character is found in Stanton himself. The actor died on September 15, 2017 while the film was making its way around the festival circuit. His passing is a big loss to the world of acting. But, thanks to Lucky, we get to see an actor working at the peak of his craft one last time.
Lucky opens in Landmark Theatre locations across the country on October 20, 2017.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.