A movie that simply wouldn’t work without the mystical, almost elemental presence of its leading man, Harry Dean Stanton (who recently died at age 91), ‘Lucky’ now feels like the last will and testament of a ghost. For decades, Stanton meandered on the periphery of his films like the loneliest cowboy, adding bone-deep earthiness to risky projects that needed his weight. He had a brief flourish in Wim Wenders’s heartbreaking ‘Paris, Texas’ – a soulful performance that begins mute – but most remember him from ‘Alien’, ‘Escape from New York’ or as Molly Ringwald’s dad in ‘Pretty in Pink’, beautifully etched supporting turns that pushed those universes toward a finer caliber of entertainment.
‘Lucky’ takes place in a tiny, unspecified speck of a Southwestern town, but its intimacy delivers it beyond time and place. Wiry and averse to small talk, Stanton’s title character dominates the frame. A creature of routine, he buys his cartons of milk, does the crossword puzzle at the diner, has Bloody Marys at the local bar. Daringly, the spare screenplay (by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja) suggests that’s enough for a plot, and thanks to Stanton’s hollowed-out gaze, it is.
There’s metaphysical depth here for those who want it: a couple of Greatest Generation anecdotes, a moving monologue about a missing tortoise (unleashed by David Lynch, of all people), pointed discussions about realism versus nothingness. But mainly we’re reckoning with mortality in the softest, least pushy register. Actor-turned-director John Carroll Lynch gets out of the way of his star and lets him cast his spell one final time.