Logan Lucky

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*** (out of five)

Steven Soderbergh returns from a self-proclaimed retirement from theatrically-released feature filmmaking with what he’s best at (and the modern cinematic master of) – the genial ensemble heist comedy.

Having presumably seen The Italian Job (1969) an awful lot during his formative years, Soderbergh exquisitely nailed the form over and again with Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen, and the spirit inherent in those films – friendly, upbeat, light, gently funny – infuses The Informant! and Magic Mike as well. In each of these films Soderbergh deploys an exceptionally cast ensemble whose characters are all unique, well-rounded and truely likeable. By the time the credits roll, all you want to do is hang out and drink beer with this scoundrels, scallywags and hustlers.

Logan Lucky is not the precision near-masterpiece that Out of Sight is, nor as tight or funny as the Ocean’s films, but it’s certainly got all the requisite qualities, and by the end, the same effect (which, as you’ll see in this film, applies significantly). It goes down smooth and easy. The heist itself (a racetrack during a motor race) is clever if not breath-taking, the milieu (West Virginia) amusing and pretty if not exotic, and the jokes raise a smile rather than provoke a laugh. But you really see Soderbergh for the characters, and every one here – played by Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough and in particular Daniel Craig – delights. (There is also a large further ensemble of recognisable faces such as Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Seth MacFarlane, Jim O’Heir, Dwight Yoakam, Hilary Swank, Macon Blair and Sebastian Stan.)

Craig is a fabulous actor. Going completely against type when your type is Best Bond Ever, he plays a tattooed cracker safe-cracker. His Southern accent may not be vocal-coach pitch-perfect, but nobody’s is (they’re all doing them), and who cares? Unlike with his Bond, Craig’s incredible eyes here pierce you not with their intelligence but their simple self-belief – a fine but impressive distinction.

Have fun! Soderbergh and his actors clearly did. So did I.

IT COMES AT NIGHT

**** (out of five)

IMG_0450Trey Edward Shults made the best feature film of 2016, Krisha. His follow-up is an intensely personal, extremely precise meditation on fear, grief, family and community. It creates, along with Get Out, Raw, Hounds of Love and Personal Shopper, a quintet of horror-adjacent films this year that have far more to say, and say it far better, than any “non-genre” releases. These auteur thrillers are, thus far, the films of 2017.

Shults is an auteur indeed. Krisha was made in his parents’ house using family members for around thirty thousand bucks. A24, the best distribution company working today (Moonlight, 20th Century Women, American Honey, The Lobster, Green Room, The Witch, Room, Amy, Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year, Locke, Under The Skin, The Spectacular Now… to name a few!) saw the film, recognised prodigiousness (Schults is only 28) and gave him five million bucks, with, it seems, total creative control. May they keep on doing so; may he be to them as Tarantino is to Miramax. Shults is uncompromising, delivering his film; it may not appeal to a mainstream genre audience, but for cinephiles, it is sublime. Every moment of the film is determined and exact, including its ambiguity. It is a distinguished work of cinema from a serious artist.

Joel Edgerton gives his finest performance to date as Paul, a man trying to keep his wife, son and dog safe in the shadow of a plague. They live in a boarded-up house in the middle of some woods, somewhere in the United States, under strict isolationist protocols; when circumstances determine those protocols to be ever-so-slightly altered – when things change – they change for the worse.

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The overriding tone here is dread. The film is relentlessly bleak, often sad, and frequently creepy, but more than anything, it’s anxious. Paranoia reigns. Paul’s determination to protect his small family has caused him to be jumpy, edgy and hard. He was a history teacher before the plague; now he’s an armed sentinel. His choices in this desperate situation are completely relatable, and the film achieves enormous power putting us in his shoes: “What the hell would I do?”

This is a lean film in every aspect, including its running time of 97 minutes (which may be all you can take). The craft across all departments is impeccable; Shults knows how to marry vision and sound. The script has many surprises and, as mentioned, some deliberate ambiguities. I gather some audiences have not exactly embraced the latter; I found them wholly satisfying (as I did the ending, which I think is brilliant). Your takeaway from It Comes At Night may really depend on what you want out of cinema. This is challenging stuff that bears intellectual rigour, or, to put it another way: if you’re not willing to think about it, you probably won’t like it.

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