by Fiona Underhill
Lucky Number Slevin is twisty-turny comedy thriller with a fantastic cast, sharp and witty dialogue and even some romance. However, I would not love it anywhere near as much as I do if it didn’t LOOK so amazing. The set decoration, costume design, as well as the use of color and lighting elevate this film from just something enjoyable to something truly memorable. Production design is an under-valued aspect of filmmaking (as well as costumes, hair and makeup) which can really make-or-break a film for me. From the work of Powell & Pressburger, to Asian masters including Wong Kar-Wai, Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-Wook, through to Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, Baz Luhrmann, Guillermo Del Toro, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet – films which are feasts for the eyes have true staying power. While you might expect fantasy films to give thorough consideration to world-building, I appreciate it when films in other genres put time, care and attention into making them look good. Some excellent recent examples of 60s/70s looks would be Bad Times at the El Royale, The Nice Guys, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – which have quite a lot in common with the aesthetic of Lucky Number Slevin. However; while the former are period pieces, Slevin is set in the modern day, but with a retro feel.
Production designer François Séguin worked with McGuigan to incorporate the film’s themes of memory, the past, flashbacks and spinning yarns or tales into the design. The film starts with an inciting incident in 1979 and, although most of the film takes place 20-25 years later, the design remains trapped in that era in the same way many of the characters do. At the start of the film, Slevin (Josh Hartnett) tells Lindsey (Lucy Liu) about the events that led to him being in his friend Nick’s apartment with a broken nose. He explains that he walked in on his girlfriend with another man and in the ‘flashback’ (we later find out that Slevin is an unreliable narrator) to this apartment, the wallpaper is all black and white, in bold designs reminiscent of Beetlejuice. This is an inversion of Nick’s apartment which is covered in floral and patterned bright wallpaper. The chintzy feel of the walls and soft furnishings is contrasted with a black kitchen, floors and couch. The real Nick Fisher remains an enigma throughout the film and the bizarre décor of his apartment only adds to this.
The design of the penthouses of The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) are all about perspectives, sight-lines, points of view and also status. They are both multi-level, with sunken sections and raised sections to aid the feeling of power of the inhabitants. They both have telescopes trained on the other, as their homes face one another, across the street. They are both too scared to leave their “towers of isolation” for fear they will be bumped off by the other one. These penthouses use more geometric designs than Nick Fisher’s busy apartment but continue the 70s theme with an orange and yellow palette. The design of the two spaces is similar, using complementing colors and shapes, showing that these two foes are more aligned than they would like to think. The Boss has a chess set in the center of his, which is all part of his power plays.
The corridor between Nick and Lindsey’s apartments uses intense patterns, but in monochrome. Lindsey has the same floral 70s wallpaper as Nick, tying her and Slevin together and reinforcing the idea of them as soulmates. Slevin wears a vest in the same Autumnal colors and in the same retro feel as Nick’s apartment, making it seem as if he belongs there. He is mistaken for Nick Fisher at the start by both The Boss and The Rabbi and Slevin’s identity is something that is questioned and changes during the course of the film. Slevin is a self-made creation, who assimilates to his environment in order to achieve his aims.
The other-worldly feel of the sets in Lucky Number Slevin somehow really works for the kind of film that it is. The design feels flung out of time and space and doesn’t make sense, but this fits the film as a whole, which constantly pulls the rug out from under the audience and challenges their assumptions. The production design is bold, unusual and memorable – it adds so much visual interest to what is already a funny and entertaining movie. It is an underseen little gem, which I highly recommend for fans of The Nice Guys.