The name is Bang — Joe Bang

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

FPolina na, rom the start of his film ca­reer with the award-win­ning Sex, Lies and Video­tapes (1989), Steven Soder­bergh seems to have worked on a “one for me, one for them” for­mula. There would be small, edgy, per­sonal films such as Full Frontal (2002) or Bub­ble (2005), and then there would be the larger-scale thrillers and ac­tion movies, like Out of Sight (1998) and Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and its se­quels. A film such as Erin Brock­ovich (2000) would fall some­where be­tween th­ese two schools, and of course Soder­bergh was fre­quently ac­tive in the the­atre and in tele­vi­sion. He’s been work­ing for the small screen for the four years since his last cin­ema fea­ture, Side Ef­fects (2013). His big-screen come­back, Lo­gan Lucky, finds him tak­ing the rel­a­tively easy op­tion of the light­hearted heist movie, some­thing he’s al­ways done well.

While not on the same level as last month’s Edgar Wright ac­tion ad­ven­ture Baby Driver, Lo­gan Lucky is nev­er­the­less plenty of fun thanks to its tricky, clever plot­ting (with a script by Re­becca Blunt) and some in­ter­est­ing cast­ing, most no­tably Daniel Craig, a very long way from his James Bond per­sona, as a crew-cut, ice­blond thug serv­ing time in prison.

The jokey cred­its read: “and in­tro­duc­ing Daniel Craig as Joe Bang”. The name of the char­ac­ter he plays is, of course, sig­nif­i­cant. Joe Bang is a well-known ex­plo­sives ex­pert, which makes him es­sen­tial to the crew plot­ting to rob the NAS­CAR mo­tor race to take place on Me­mo­rial Day on a track con­structed over land­fill and prone to sink­holes.

The film is set in Boone County, West Vir­ginia, and across the bor­der in North Carolina. View­ers, be­ware of those thick south­ern ac­cents — they’re pretty dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend at times. But di­a­logue isn’t re­ally what this film is all about.

The rob­bery is planned by the Lo­gan Brothers, Jimmy (Chan­ning Ta­tum) and Clyde (Adam Driver). Jimmy has re­cently lost his job and is sep­a­rated from his wife and daugh­ter, while Clyde, a vet­eran of the war in Iraq, has a pros­thetic arm, which doesn’t af­fect his job as bar­tender at the Duck Tape wa­ter­ing hole.

This is the kind of film in which it’s nec­es­sary to pay care­ful at­ten­tion to the de­tails of plan­ning the rob­bery, be­cause we can be pretty sure that some ap­par­ently mi­nor el­e­ments of the scheme will as­sume great im­por­tance later on. In this case the cru­cial in­gre­di­ents in­clude cock­roaches, gummy bears (the Amer­i­can equiv­a­lent of jelly ba­bies) and plas­tic bags.

The film bub­bles along with some very dry jokes — both au­ral and vis­ual — and some amus­ing pe­riph­eral char­ac­ters. First among th­ese is Max Chilblain (Seth MacFar­lane), an English rac­ing car driver with a gi­ant ego who, of course, has to be taken down a peg or two by th­ese good ol’ boys. Less amus­ing are the scenes in which Jimmy’s young daugh­ter (Far­rah Macken­zie) gets made up and dressed to par­tic­i­pate in the Miss Pretty West Vir­ginia Pageant, an event ap­par­ently pred­i­cated on the sex­u­al­i­sa­tion of very young chil­dren.

The heist is skil­fully staged on ev­ery level, thanks in no small de­gree to the pho­tog­ra­phy by “Peter An­drews”, a pseu­do­nym for the direc­tor, who also edited the movie (as him­self). All that tricky ac­tion is fol­lowed by scenes that would nor­mally be an­ti­cli­mac­tic as the FBI launches an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the rob­bery and Hi­lary Swank en­ters the pic­ture, rather im­pres­sively play­ing the chief in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer. At least she’s al­lowed to keep her dig­nity: this is the sort of film in which author­ity fig­ures, in­clud­ing cops and the war­den of the prison from which Joe Bang has to es­cape in order to par­tic­i­pate in the rob­bery, are por­trayed as mo­rons.

Lo­gan Lucky is a fre­quently smart and per­fectly en­ter­tain­ing piece of cin­e­matic fluff, and will doubt­less be very suc­cess­ful. Steven Soder­bergh is ca­pa­ble of more sub­stan­tial ma­te­rial than this, though, and hope­fully his next foray into cin­ema will re­flect the more se­ri­ous side of this al­ways in­ter­est­ing direc­tor. Polina is an adap­ta­tion of a graphic novel by Bastien Vives and it tells a re­as­sur­ingly fa­mil­iar story of a young girl who yearns to find suc­cess as a bal­le­rina. We first meet Polina, played as a wide-eyed child by Veronika Zhovnyt­ska, liv­ing with her work­ing-class par­ents, An­ton (Miglen Mirtchev), who comes from Ge­or­gia, and Natalia (Kseniya Kutepova), Siberian, in a small flat in Moscow. This is a cheer­less place, the street out­side dom­i­nated by nu­clear re­ac­tors belch­ing steam. An­ton is in­volved in some form of un­spec­i­fied crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, and one night Polina and her mother are ter­ri­fied when two armed men break into the apart­ment and threaten them. No won­der Polina wants to es­cape.

Es­cape, for her, is bal­let. Her stern teacher, Bo­jin­ski (Alek­sei Guskov), en­cour­ages her and by the time she reaches the age of 20 or there­abouts, now played by Anas­ta­sia Shevtsova, she’s ready to au­di­tion for the Bol­shoi. She is ac­cepted, but her plans are de­railed when she meets a vis­it­ing French dancer, Adrien (Niels Sch­nei­der). They be­come danc­ing part­ners and, when he re­turns to bal­let school in Aix-enProvence, Polina de­cides to go with him. For­tu­nately she’s learned a lit­tle French. Her par­ents are hor­ri­fied and deeply dis­ap­pointed at their daugh­ter’s de­ci­sion, but Polina is stub­born and she has made up her mind.

In Aix the pair be­come mem­bers of the bal­let school run by Liria El­saj (Juli­ette Binoche) and for a while it seems they will be­come star per­form­ers in mod­ern, rather than clas­si­cal, bal­let. But var­i­ous events lead to dis­ap­point­ments and re­jec­tions, and even­tu­ally Polina finds her­self alone, home­less and job­less in a strange city. Her for­tunes rise again when she meets an­other dancer, Karl (Jeremie Belin­gard).

Poor Polina only wants to ex­cel at her cho­sen pro­fes­sion, but con­stantly finds her­self thwarted for one rea­son or an­other. Shevtsova, who has not acted be­fore but who is a star of the Mari­in­sky The­atre in St Peters­burg, is lu­mi­nous in the role, but screen­writer Va­lerie Muller, who co-di­rected with chore­og­ra­pher An­gelin Preljo­caj, gives us only the most su­per­fi­cial in­sights into the pro­tag­o­nist’s pri­vate life and how she’s re­ally cop­ing so far from home, in a strange coun­try. This is the first fea­ture from both di­rec­tors, al­though Preljo­caj is well known in France as a dance chore­og­ra­pher.

Vis­ually the film is un­even, with some seg­ments, such as the cli­mac­tic scene and very beau­ti­ful bal­let, clas­si­cally filmed and oth­ers need­lessly spoiled by jit­tery cam­er­a­work. The lengthy scenes of train­ing, re­hears­ing and per­form­ing will be a de­light for lovers of bal­let, who will doubt­less for­give the nar­ra­tive lapses and oc­ca­sional cliches.

Binoche’s con­vinc­ing cameo is some­thing of a reve­la­tion, though in France she has per­formed as a dancer on stage in re­cent years. Belin­gard is also well known as a dancer, hav­ing per­formed in lead­ing roles for the Paris Opera Bal­let.

From left, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig and Chan­ningg TatuTa­tum in n Lo­gan Lucky;Lucky Anas­ta­sia Shevtsova and Nielsels Sch­nei­deScSch­nei­der in n be­low

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