The name is Bang — Joe Bang
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