Saturday, 19 August 2017

IN THEATRES: Logan Lucky...plus The Informant!

Indiewood darling Steven Soderbergh has returned from self-imposed retirement with the heist movie Logan Lucky.
 

Wanting to break his family's run of bad luck, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) enlists his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), his sister Mellie (Riley Keough) and convicted bank robber Joe Bang (daniel Craig) for a heist during the Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend (which means more money).

Coming out of this movie, I was struggling to come up with thing sot write for this review. It wasn't bad; neither was it great. It's just... okay. The movie cruises along, flirting with comedy and drama, but never building on either.

Tatum's character has a subplot with his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), which proves pivotal for his character turn, but there is little sense of real build-up, so when his character makes final choice, it does not feel earned.

The heist is cool - it requires a prison break during a riot - but in terms of execution it never feels that tense. It is also not funny enough.

The acting is fine - Tatum is a solid lead, and has a good rapport with Driver as his brother. However it never really feels like he is the centre of the action. Driver is the most interesting character - a war veteran who lost an arm. He manages to evoke a man with a sense of loss and lack of direction with a deft touch - his deadpan delivery is also the funniest thing in the movie. I wish other aspects of the picture were as multifaceted as his performance.

Daniel Craig is fine, although I was distracted by his accent. It is pretty good but I always felt like I was watching an actor playing a character. The only time I believed him is in the scene where he confronts Driver after it seems Tatum has betrayed them. It is the one time I felt a sense of motive and emotion behind an interaction.

The one misfire in the cast is Seth MacFarlane. This guy is just not made for live action. Combined with his British accent and bizarre hairstyle, he feels like a sketch character. Every time he was in a scene it pulled me out of the movie.

Soderbergh is on record as saying he is good at neutralising sentimentality and melodrama, scenes and moments which are usually played bigger (think back to the quiet close to Ocean's 11, or the ending to Erin Brockovich). He does underplay the movie's more emotional sequences (such as Sadie's beauty pageant), but there is something missing from Rebecca Blunt's script which means Soderbergh's direction smoothes everything out so there is never any real sense of stakes or emotional payoff.

Watching Logan Lucky made me yearn for the Soderbergh of old. And since I do not have much more to say about his latest project, here's a review of one of his more underrated works, 2009's The Informant!


Based on a true story, The Informant! tells the story of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), an executive at the food processing and commodities trading corporation Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) who blew the whistle on his company's price-fixing strategy for lysine, a corn-based additive in the livestock industry. Whitacre becomes an FBI informant, but quickly becomes a liability as his fantasies of being a secret agent interfere with his 'mission'.

Soderbergh loves to come up with a very specific take on what could be a conventional story. Sometimes it works (the New Hollywood-inspired Out of Sight); sometimes it does not (the Michael Curtiz homage The Good German). With The Informant!, Soderbergh was faced with a story filled with so many crazy details that a straight treatment would have been lost in a

he came up with a brilliant match of style to material: Because the movie is from Whitacre's POV, and the character is such a fantasist, Soderbergh styles the movie like a sixties spy movie. Marvin Hamlisch's (The Sting) score recalls the jazzy style of James Bond and the Pink Panther, while Soderbergh shoots the movie with an emphasis on faded colour palette and lighting strategies that recall the freewheeling, improvised style of seventies comedies.

And then there is the film's trump card: the narration.

Whitacre's narration is a marvel, revealing no new information except the depth of the character's dementia. It does not take long for you to realise that this device is not conveying information - it is merely reflecting Whitacre's detachment from reality, and focus on minutiae.

For the first two thirds of the movie, The Informant! is a breezy, offbeat comedy about a feckless rub stumbling through a low-stakes version of The Insider. Once the court case begins, the truth spills out: Whitacre has been embezzling money from the company; he hires a personal injury lawyer who turns up to court in a Hawaiian shirt; he ends up diagnosed with bipolar disorder; and he winds up going to prison for a far longer sentence than any of the men his work helped convict.

Damon is perfect in the lead - he inhabits Whitacre's bland, gormless persona completely. He gives Whitacre a sense of self-belief and an earnestness which only serves to highlight how truly bizarre Whitacre's actions are. You can believe that the unassuming Whitacre could get away with his 'secret mission'.

Bakula and Melanie Lynskey (as Whitacre's wife Ginger) added a baffled credibility to proceedings, while Soderbergh heightens the sense of irony by casting comedians (Joel McHale, Tony Hale, Paul F. Tompkins, Andy Daly and the Smothers Brothers) in supporting roles. 

While it got good reviews on release, The Informant! failed to catch fire at the box office. I remember seeing it at the theatre and not thinking much of it, but over time it just stuck with me. I have re-watched it a couple of times, and it just gets better every time.

If you're in the mood for a Soderbergh fix, take another look at The Informant!

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