Magnolia Pictures 88 minutes NR Reviewed November 6, 2017
Harry Dean Stanton gave the movie world a gift with his last and final performance. The famous character actor is the centerpiece of a film about a reclusive man in his 90s contemplating life and death. Stanton died at the age of 91 just 2 weeks before the film’s release.
This is the first feature film actor John Carroll Lynch (The Founder, Jackie, Fargo, TV’s American Horror Story) has directed. He wanted to make a film that was for Harry’s fans, but also one that would work as a stand alone. For Harry, it had to real and truthful. Here, Harry is Lucky, an atheist hermit in a small desert town where everybody knows his name. He loves to be under the big blue sky looking silently out on the expanse of dry land he loves, watering a cactus plant in his underwear.
Harry, as Lucky, has no inhibitions in this film. We see him alone in his house in his baggy underwear (he was so thin) doing yoga. And he’s always walking to and from town, and in the desert looking for Mr. Roosevelt, his 100 year old tortoise that is missing in action. The director was amazed how Harry walked about 3 miles in 90 degree heat all day long for one of the scenes. That’s a lot for a nearly 90 year old man. But he’d do whatever was needed to make it look real. He even sings in Spanish at a little party with compadres in the desert, which is charming scene.
When Lucky goes into town, he visits with the regulars in the diner where he shouts, “You’re Nothing!” as his greeting. In real life, the famous character actor was not a recluse. In this film, he’s surrounded by a cast of old friends, many of whom previously worked with him.
Those familiar faces include Director David Lynch (not related to John Carroll) worked together on Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me), Tom Skerritt (Alien), and Beth Grant (Jackie). Blast from the past, James Darren, joins the old timers in a bar scene where you witness the banter of close friends. David Lynch is suited up fancy with a tie and fedora in a scene showing friends from very different backgrounds philosophizing.
Ron Livingston and Ed Begley Jr. fill out the cast. Begley, Jr. plays Harry’s doctor, Dr. Kneedler who tells him that, although he smokes, there’s nothing wrong with him. He could live forever. The scene with his doctor is almost cute, especially when Lucky relishes a lollipop from the doc like a little kid, instead of that constant cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
The director called it a labor of love from beginning to end. The script was written by two of Harry Dean Stanton’s long time assistants, Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja. It was their first screenplay as well. John Carroll Lynch seized the opportunity and admits that sometimes he became so mesmerized by Harry’s performance, he’d forget to look at what he was getting through the camera lens.
At one point, Harry balked at doing the Mockingbird story which he’s told before. He was finally persuaded and did the whole scene in one take. Lynch was more than satisfied, but Harry insisted on doing it again, and a third time! All were great but Harry, the perfectionist, was hell bent on doing all three takes.
This wasn’t supposed to be a swan song, or a good-bye party with friends. Lynch and Harry were just trying to tell a story. The director describes Harry as being “fierce” about being truthful. For Stanton it was never acting at all. The actor reveals so much about himself as well as his character in every scene.
The film rolls along at a slow but sure pace with plenty of time to study closeups of the amazing actor’s ruddy, sun-dried face mapped with character lines. It is a fitting tribute to a man who’s body of work contained only two lead roles; in this film and in Paris, Texas. But appearing in nearly 200 films over a period of 60 years, Harry Dean Stanton made an indelible mark.