Logan Lucky (2017)

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We’ve been taking a bit of a break here at FilmPravda. Both Ed and I (the two writers for our lucky two reader) have still been keeping up with films, but the holiday season has been pushing us hard and as a result we’ve been laying low. Films still keep coming out, and people still keep talking about them, so we haven’t been too stressed. But we both love films, and talking about them too, and we’re gonna keep sending anyone who’s listening low-key reflections and essays on cinema when we get the time.

Now let’s get onto this heist film.


It’s ironic for me that I’ve never seen any of Soderbergh’s heist films, considering I love heist films. It’s a genre for me that is a comfort food, a genre which I continually return to. Maybe it is the elaborate construction of these films, complex and spiralling obstacle courses of maneuvers and complications in a physical world of security systems, police authorities, and often strong crashing egos as the stakes get higher and higher. And yet no matter how complicated or looping the journey gets, heist films continually wind back to finding out whether the heist was worth it in the end.  Heist films are puzzles which, when finished, you stand back and understand how every piece came to be placed in its position. They spiral upwards, arc during the execution of the heist, and then spiral downwards in a dizzying array of set-ups and consequences.

But as spectacular as any heist may or may not be, it is usually its participants who really make or break what you see. And in Logan Lucky (2017, Dir. Steven Soderbergh), we see a cast of characters so firmly rooted in America’s soil and earth, that it would be hard not to be entertained by them. Loose exaggerations and caricatures of West Virginian folk, their presences overwhelm and ground anybody watching into the world of blue-collar work, interstate road knowledge, and backwoods country dialogue. Logan Lucky is carried by a deft and swift script, written by Rebecca Blunt (whoever she may be) who transports scenes and characters along with fantastic ease, while simultaneously exposing a deep-rooted cultural identity. This is a fancy way of saying it feels real, or at lease explaining how it does that.

The other incredibly elegant thing about Logan Lucky, the thing which really excited me after finishing it, is the fact that the heist was enough. Heist films often fall into the trap that things only really get interesting when things go wrong, and when the authorities begin to get close and neutralise the criminals. While Logan Lucky dips into the well trodden ground, with a late-game cameo ride from Hillary Swank as a FBI agent, it never quite becomes the usual game of cat and mouse. The sheer volume of complexity of pulling off the heist is enough, and that really makes the film stand strong and tall over some of its peers. The event of the film is enough to entertain, it’s ebbs and flows along the way becoming moments of sheer joy, confusion, tension. An extreme moment involving a bomb fired out of a pneumatic tube practically caused all the breath in my body to vanish, which hasn’t happened in a long time.

I know I could probably be more elegant in discussing the film, but I’m not sure if that’s the right tone for it. The film itself is very cool, and cool doesn’t mesh well with ponderous and serious reflection. The film has some ironic musings concerning the excessiveness of American culture, but that’s it. Heist films usually leave very little room for anything beyond its own concerns, and any serious or even deep subtext is nearly always to do with the characters, not the world. And while Logan Lucky is not a character study, what impresses me is how each and every performance is at exactly the right level needed for the film. The actors are experienced, confident and really really magnetic. The actors are exaggerating for the style of the film, but in a world where everyone is exaggerated they all match incredibly well.

If I had to put one thing else on the line, it’s the fact that I respect its lack of connectedness. The film world reflects the real life isolation from the 21st century tech web that many people might find themselves in, and assume everyone else lives in. Logan Lucky somehow manages to take place now, while conveniently managing to displace all of the distractions we have now. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is without a phone, his anti-tech misgivings helping his heist go smoother. The wi-fi is disabled through a humourous sequence. Every real-life obstacle we might imagine now, is negotiated, overcome, improvised over. The script takes the real world around it, and plants a heist directly in it, not in some magical land where wi-fi or cell-phones don’t exist suddenly. It’s an insane commitment to the logistics of the heist, where every element is thought-out and at least believable, even if not true.

Maybe that’s what heist films are really about; logistics. Maybe the obsessive ordering, elaborate and evolving navigation of elements, and race between doors opening in front of you and closing behind you, is just a complex game of logistics. Maybe that’s what really appeals to me. But even if that is true, the commitment in Logan Lucky in every area, while remaining light and breezy and fast, is a fascinating blend of elements to be involved in. It is not a film which will make you radically re-evaluate cinema, but it is a masterclass in sheer execution, an elaborate spiralling dance of sheer character action and events. It is a folk tale of the 21st century, and its final move is reminding you that the best thieves are those who make it look like they never stole anything.

I’d be very happy to let films steal my time, if they were as exciting as Logan Lucky.

-Alex

-P.S FilmPravda posts will be erratic, but they will continue throughout the year. If you liked this, it means the world if you’d share it around or like or comment. Let us know if it resonates with you!

Logan Lucky (2017)

American Animals (2018)

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I have always loved heist films. I find it tough not to get wrapped up in them, a story which is an intricate puzzle, a crossroads of crime and justice and  an adrenaline filled real time (usually) injection as the theoretical heist becomes a real one. Each heist film, good or bad, is an act of chinese spinning plates, never fully comfortable and requiring constant focus and attention. If it’s not the outside forces, it’s the inside forces of the participants and their minds which may cause things to unravel. And usually, the unravelling seems almost inevitable, as time after time we watch heist movie after heist movie where ultimately the robbers meet their comeuppance, the long arm of the law putting them in handcuffs. In fact if cinematic history is anything to go by, a heist is something almost always doomed inevitably to failure.

That doesn’t stop people from trying though.


 

Bart Layton seems like a shrewd filmmaker. He seems like a man whose vision for the film is one of complexity, both technically and artistically. For American Animals is not a straightforward film. A fictional recreation of the events of the narrative intertwine and bleed through into documentary interviews with the subjects of the film. Four men, in their college years of 2004, planned and executed a heist of some priceless books from Transylvania University, Kentucky. Among them a copy of The Birds of America, a work by James Audubon which contained elaborate prints of America’s wildlife. The symbolism already rife in the story, Layton uses and blends film techniques together to not just show an unknowing audience what happened, but also why it happened from the source themselves. But to hold a story up like this under the magnifying glass, you can see the complexities and multiple stories vying for control underneath the surface.

Memories can change over time. Memories can be misremembered. They can be distorted, flipped, shifted or even confused with others. And that’s right before you get to any sort of conscious denials or lies. Through sometimes nauseatingly intense testimonials, we can see the real life players of the events do their best to remember why and how they did the things they did over 10+ years ago. We can see them do their best to explain, confront, justify and explore the things they did, how they came to solidify their past into a path which pushed them to pull off a heist. Layton and his collaborator, Ole Bratt Birkland, push an unflinching camera and cinematography into your world, one which sees many sides to these robbers. We explore their perspectives, their ambitions, their defenses. All the big and little traits which make up a personality really.

And alongside this, we see a filmic re-enactment of the events in question, as they are explained in real time to us. And to have both the real life people and actors share the same space on the screen (sometimes literally, as stories overlap and fight each other), creates a viewing where you have to acknowledge the film as a fake, after all it isn’t real documentary footage of the actual heist from 2004, but also a film which feels more real as the real life Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Chas Allen and Eric Borsuk explain the actions and behaviours and mental states of what you’ve just seen, and what you’re about to see happen. It’s a really fascinating and unconventional way to watch a film, half aware of its construction but also feeling more connected and involved because of it. It’s a bold and refreshing technical choice to see for sure.

The fictional half of the film has no slack either, it is arresting and gripping. The performances/performers are very open, very easy to hang onto. You watch them with the same amount of close inspection you apply to their real life counterparts, and it’s hard to convey the range on show here. It’s soundtrack is carefully sculpted from a broad spectrum, it’s use of movement in space is frenetic and at times genuinely nail-biting. The performances I mentioned earlier build to a compounded finish of intensity, as events spiral. Of course one tool Layton has on his side is the truth, as the real life oddities of their heist make the story more unexpected than any written and telegraphed script.

Look, a lot of what makes this film really good is just the river it flows down, the journey it takes you on. And while there’s so much to love about this film, it also offers only a coda of reckoning, as the silence of guilt and trauma hangs over them, as the damage they’ve done to themselves and the people in their lives is brought up. And it is hard for me to come to a conclusion on this heist, other than what it is. And I think the symbolism of the film collapses to the real life narrative as well, the final battle of the stories. And any technical flamboyancy evenutally has to quiet down to the plain, unpleasant truths. They tried to make and execute a successful heist, they failed and paid a heavy price for it. Their ambition got cut down. Nothing melodramatic about it, only the true weight of their consequences crashing down on their lives. And so it goes on.

And maybe someone else down the line will see this, and think it might be their turn. That maybe they can do it right.

-Alex

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American Animals (2018)