Harry Dean Stanton’s final role must be in consideration for one of his best. In actor-turned-first-time-director John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky, Stanton’s wiry, weathered presence dominates a film that is, fittingly, about endings and death. Stanton’s titular character is a version of himself that never acted or became tangentially famous. Many of the details are the same. Neither Stanton nor Lucky ever married or had children, they both served in the Navy during WWII, both lived much longer than their actuarial tables would suggest, and they’re both friends with David Lynch, who plays a barfly who’s lost his tortoise. From that shared backstory, the film puts Lucky in a dusty California town and simply observes his daily routine and the philosophy that has guided his life. The film knows that Stanton is a charismatic presence in spite of himself, and it’s a pleasure to watch him do anything, even if it’s as acinematic as working on a crossword puzzle in a diner.
Away from the rhythms of Lucky’s life, the film has an existential streak. Lucky embraces an austere view of life, an enforced solitude borne out of his dead-certain conviction that life is not mystical or mysterious and that it ends in loneliness and isolation for everyone. He might insist on living alone, but he’s not alone. His daily life in the town is filled with friendly interactions from people he sees every day. Those people include convenience store clerks and brassy barflies, passing-through fellow veterans and diner wait staff. All are as dignified and endearing as Lucky himself, especially an emotionally wounded Tom Skeritt as the veteran who quiets the diner with a searing war story. Lucky is packed with grace notes like these, and Lynch has created a kind of Frederick-Wiseman-esque feeling of pure observation. The film doesn’t have inciting incidents or climaxes: it just wants to spend time with Lucky, and Stanton by extension. Who could say no to that? A-
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