Watch The Trailer
Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Lucky begins with series of shots of the Arizona desert: broken-backed hills, cacti reaching for the sky. It locates a tortoise crawling on the ground. This is President Roosevelt, whose predicament we’ll learn about in due course. Then it settles on a human equivalent of that tortoise: the title character, Lucky, played by then-89-year old Harry Dean Stanton, who died mere weeks before this film’s commercial release. Over the course of the next 88 minutes, we spend almost every moment in the company of Lucky. Lucky is a long-retired World War II veteran. He has friends but is often brusque and impatient with them. He has a routine, and like many older people, it gives shape to his days.
Lucky is filled with frank talk about primal subjects. This is often framed as banter, or enclosed within routine events such as a random conversation in a restaurant (Tom Skerritt plays another World War II veteran; he’s too young for the part but you believe him anyway) or in a doctor’s office (Ed Begley, Jr. plays Lucky’s physician—what a treasure trove of actors this film is). But the story’s deeper meanings reside in its images of Harry Dean Stanton moving at a tortoise’s pace through a series of sun-drenched, Western-styled panoramas (the soundtrack often playing a solo harmonica version of “Red River Valley” performed by Stanton), or making his way from the entrance of his favourite coffee shop or bar to his customary seat (when he sees someone else sitting in it, it throws him for a loop).
This movie is about death, of course, and fear of death, and health, and loneliness. It’s about the choices not made and the roads not taken: Lucky has a lot of regrets, but you often have to deduce what they are, because he’s the kind of crabby old eccentric who’d rather get into debates with people than just talk to them. Much is made of Lucky’s atheism, which complicates his defiant attitude towards the inevitable approach of death.