Ocean's Eleven and sexual politics set in the south

Here we go again on that movie trip to the American south. It's a colourful, exotic place, filled with British, Australian and New York actors testing questionable drawls, where every character is possible, as long as he or she is some flavour of idiot.

Logan Lucky (PG13, 119 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3/5 stars) is a heist comedy set in North Carolina and has its fair share of southern movie stereotypes.

But director Steven Soderbergh, maker of the Ocean's Eleven series (2001-2007) and Magic Mike (2012), grew up in Georgia and Louisiana. It might explain why the key characters, while typically native, have more filled-out personalities.

Clyde (Adam Driver) and Jimmy (Channing Tatum) Logan are brothers who seem to bear out the truth of a family curse that states that all good things for a Logan will turn bad.

Clyde is a military veteran with a prosthetic arm working as a bartender, while Jimmy is a laid-off construction worker and divorced dad. They hatch a plan to rob a race track and recruit Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), an explosives expert who happens to be in jail. Sister Mellie (Riley Keough) is brought into the scheme.

You might call this a "Kentucky Fried Ocean's Eleven", as others have, and you would not be far off. It's Soderbergh repeating himself with a new cast and setting. While the freshness is no longer there, Soderbergh makes sure Eleven's best qualities - the tight plotting, smoothly executed red herrings, crisp dialogue and pacey narrative - are all present.

Stylish but shallow, this could be the director's next franchise, along with Eleven and Magic Mike. When everyone else seems to be doing sequels to tested brands, Soderbergh - while threatening to quit show business every other year - admirably launches new ones.

Colin Farrell plays an injured soldier and Kirsten Dunst is a disapproving teacher in The Beguiled.
Colin Farrell plays an injured soldier and Kirsten Dunst is a disapproving teacher in The Beguiled. PHOTO: UIP

The Beguiled (M18, 94 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars) is set about a century and a half before the events of Logan Lucky, but the locale is Virginia, just one state to the north.

Some have called this a feminist adaptation of the 1971 movie of the same name starring Clint Eastwood, but director and screenwriter Sofia Coppola says she returned to the source, Thomas Cullinan's 1966 novel.

As in her previous films, such as The Bling Ring (2013) and Lost In Translation (2003), the story is seen through the eyes of a woman. In this case, several women.

They are the staff and students of a school for girls, largely abandoned because of the Civil War, save for a few - the starchy headmistress Martha (Nicole Kidman), disapproving teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and students such as Alicia (Elle Fanning) and Amy (Oona Laurence). Living as a family and holding on to tradition, they try to keep their corner of the world as insulated from the national bloodshed as possible.

The routine of school, prayer and strict moral instruction is disrupted when injured soldier McBurney (Colin Farrell) lands in their midst. Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, he brings temptation and chaos.

"Man stuck in a girls' school" might be the set-up for a bawdy British comedy from the 1970s, but Coppola uses it to reflect on a range of things - male violence against women, manipulation and how women construct idealised images of men.

Sexual politics played out in a microcosm could make for an interesting watch, but Coppola expresses it in a flat, arid manner - it's as if she wants to bleed it of all style and artifice. In the end, the work becomes an instructional video, one that does not tell us what we do not already know about the mind games men and women play.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline 'Ocean's Eleven and sexual politics set in the south'. Print Edition | Subscribe