Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 03/27/04 12:13:11

"At last, a truly Canadian film that doesn't suffer from cultural cringe."
5 stars (Awesome)

Canadian film, like Australian film, has often suffered a malaise that set it apart from the usual mainstream releases that come out of Hollywood. It's a sickness that makes the typically local quirks something to highlight and harp on. It's an illness that makes Australian movies take place in the outback and places Canadian flicks on the prairies, or in Atlantic fishing villages. Rare is the film from either of these two countries that simply tells a good story and places it in a location that just happens to be not in the US, and box offices tend to suffer as a result as audiences roll their eyes at the continual onslaught of hokey. After all, you can only see Maury Chaykin playing a crazy man or Molly Parker playing the quirky redhead so many times before the whole thing develops the faint aroma of 'been there, done that.' Peter Wellington's new film, Luck, touches all of the quirky bases you'd expect from a Canadian film, but does so in a way that places it well above the usual film-fund fodder. Luck is a film that is unequivocally Canadian, but it doesn't make a huge deal about the fact. And it's funny. And it's well made. and it's well written And it's really very good.

Shane (Luke Kirby) is infatuated with Margaret (Sarah Polley). But Margaret is still 'involved' with someone else, so Shane bides his time playing 'the friend' while he waits for an opening in Margaret's romantic schedule. Shane isn't a gambler, though his buddies all are, and thus he misses chance after chance at taking a bold stand and telling his beloved how he feels, until the day that she tells him she's considering going to London with her almost ex-boyfriend, who might just be worth another shot. She's waiting for Shane to tell her not to go, but Shane plays it safe yet again and offers to feed her cat while she's gone. Ouch.

So Margaret leaves, and Shane feels sorry for himself, deciding to go our and gamble at a casino in a fit of self-loathing. One would guess his intention is to lose and wallow in depression, but Shane just can't lose. He has no fear, gambling more and more, and the winnings pile up. He makes a killing, goes home and buys a big TV.

And then he goes back to the casino. And that's where Shane's life really begins to bite the big dick.

Any Canadian will tell you that one of the pivotal eras of the nation's history involves the 1972 'summit' meeting of the Canadian ice hockey team and their Soviet counterparts. It was a brutal series, where the European kids taught the boys from the country that invented the game that their game had been hijacked and bettered by others. The Canucks were roundly thrashed in the first game, creating a day of national mourning at home. They came back hard in the next game and surprised the commies, but then received another butt-kicking, and another. The Canadian team were booed at by their own fans and spoke out loudly against the treatment they were receiving, just before traveling to the Soviet Union to continue the series, and so it was thought, continue the beating.

This is the backdrop for Luck - this nation-building moment where things could either be headed for a humiliating defeat, or an incredible, unbelievable victory. Of course, Canadians know which way things went, but it's something to say that it really doesn't matter if you know the final result or not - Luck will surprise you over and over and over again.

In a story about gambling, it would be all too easy to follow formulas and hand the lead an easy, happy finale, and while some would say that the ending of this film pushes the envelope well into cheese territory, it does so not before giving the audience a series of surprises and continually breaking with formula along the way. When you expect Shane to finally dig his way out of a hole, the hole gets deeper. When you think you know where it's all headed, it heads somewhere else.

All the while, this period of intense Canadiana (if that wasn't a phrase before today, it is now) is utilized as background, threatening to become all important but continually relegated to the category of 'backdrop' when a less adept director would have jumped aboard it and ridden it as far as he could get away with. Peter Wellington, who wrote the screenplay as well directing it, impresses throughout, not just because he's made a period film with precious little expense devoted to recreating the period, not just because he utilized sports without making it a sports film, and not even because he made a film about gambling without undoing the entire message of the film with easy endings. No, Luck is a great film because Peter Wellington, and his lead, Shane Kirby, have built a character on the screen that is at once believable, empathetic, tragic and hilarious.

Kirby, who will immediately remind any regular viewer of Scrubs of the similarly comedic Zach Braff, is simply perfect as the heartbroken man stuck on a losing streak that can't be fixed, no matter how he tries. You want this dude to win out, even if it would lessen the film if he did so, and when all looks lost, you genuinely feel alarm for where he'll end up.

Man, I've seen thousands of films over the last five years, and I could count the number of times I genuinely winced at what a character had coming up on one hand. Granted, Shane's fate isn't on a par with Monica Belucci's in Irreversible, but it's surely headed in such a direction.

I genuinely enjoyed this film for a number of reasons. It's a smart, funny, disturbing look at a side of life that is all too easy to get into and all too difficult to escape. Maybe you'll relate, maybe you won't, but I would strongly advise any Canadian to seek out this film NOW, while you can, so that it avoids the fate of so many great Canadian films - the one week theatrical window.

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