I usually start my reviews for Steven Soderbergh films on the defensive. I slowly back into my praise by issuing a handful of disclaimers about how taken I am with Soderbergh’s command of the cinematic medium. How, even if you don’t like what he’s doing, it is simply impossible to deny that he knows exactly what he’s doing. The way he uses color as a storytelling device, his penchant for digital technology, his seemingly effortless and equal skill behind the camera and the editing bay, and so on.
Technically, I consider Steven Soderbergh’s films to be flawless. There’s a scene very early in his new excellent film, Magic Mike in which the camera is placed in the back of a pickup truck. There’s nothing going on, just the camera tracking the gorgeous Tampa landscape, but suddenly, the camera pivots and shows us the view from the other side of the truck.
So, yeah, I love everything there is to love about the films of Steven Soderbergh. And when it was announced that his next film was going to be a character study about a male stripper, I didn’t bulk in the slightest. Moody high class escort, lonely doll factory worker, legendary guerilla warfare fighter, sweet hearted male stripper – if it’s got Soderbergh’s name on it, I’m there.
In Magic Mike, Channing Tatum stars as a 30-year-old man about town living for night in Tampa. He wakes late, often with a naked girl(s) next to him, works a day job, pre games at a hot club, then strips his life away in front of dozens of eager women. He finishes his act, drinks definitely, does drugs maybe, picks up a girl, takes her home, wakes up, repeats.
And that’s about that. There is a slight shred of a plot including Mike taking Adam (Alex Pettyfer, boasting perfect swagger) under his wing and showing him the ropes. During this, Mike eventually falls for Adam’s older sister, Brooke (Cody Horn, a natural), even though he plans to soon move to Miami with his boss, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, sensational), and the rest of their stripping crew. But that’s not really the movie. At its heart, Magic Mike is about a loyal, carefree, kind man who makes a living the best way he knows how. There’s little conflict, moderate drama, and by the end, you may ask yourself what was the point of it all.
My answer: to explore a part of the world we rarely (if ever) see explored. That’s the beauty of a well-executed character study – we focus on the man. And, if done well, as I believe Magic Mike is, we may find ourselves completely taken with a subject we never saw coming.
I’m not quite sure what there is to like about Channing Tatum. He seems like a nice enough guy, but I have yet to see his acting skills live up to his A-list status. That was, until this January, when he completely blew me away with a restrained, focused performance in Soderbergh’s Haywire. And now, after his game-changing work in Magic Mike, I’m curious to see Tatum’s career evolve. There’s a scene in the film in which Mike and Brooke engage in a long, heated argument, most of which Mike stutters and slips and stammers through. Basically, he talks how people talk in real life during a similar situation. When was the last time you saw that in a movie?
You may take what I’m saying as the makings of a boring film. Fair enough. Magic Mike isn’t for everyone, no Soderbergh film is. Point in fact, the theater I saw this film in was packed with women of all ages, very few of who seemed pleased as they left the theater. Magic Mike isn’t a chick flick, nor is it a Boys Gone Wild romp. It’s an endearing character study that ranks among the best films released so far this year. It is, for me, completely unmissable. A-