So the thing is, I love Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike. The movie is a lot smarter than it has ever been given credit for, and in the wake of the release of its worthy follow-up, Magic Mike XXL (my review here), I thought it be fun to take a look back at the wildly misunderstood source film. For the most part, I’m going to focus on the technical aspects of the film – cinematography, editing, sound design – which are sadly rarely discussed.
One of Steven Soderbergh’s favorite maxims is that the audience will forgive poor video, but they’ll never forgive poor audio. This is why the sound design in Soderbergh’s films is always on point. Notice how sound immediately sets the mood in Magic Mike. The hollow echo of women chatting, a gentle breeze for tone, Matthew McConaughey amping up the crowd. Cheers, applause, cat calls – the sound is telling us where we are before we see where we are.
Always a good sign when the opening shot of a movie is a perfect one.
The grammar of film dictates that you start a scene with a master shot (a shot from far away to establish the setting) then push in with a series of shots (medium, medium-close, close-up). So, showing two insanely wide master shots from parallel angles before cutting to a close-up of Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) defies cinematic convention. That’s Soderbergh for you, always breaking the rules.
The jump cut to the month title cards. So startling when the sound gives out.
The first time I saw this film, the moment the camera whip panned from one side of Mike’s (Channing Tatum) truck to the other, I knew I was going to love Magic Mike. There’s an efficiency to the shot that I find awe-inspiring.
This long, second story-to-roof crane shot. Take in all in.
The foreman busting Adam’s (Alex Pettyfer) balls because he took two Pepsis.
Sound again. Soderbergh loves to lead with sound, meaning as one scene is ending, we often hear the sound of the next scene fade in, before actually cutting to that scene. Example: As Mike walks to his car, we hear the sound of a car failing to start, then we cut to Adam trying to start his car. It’s a nice little touch that injects some energy into the movie.
Love that the deep yellow, sun-drenched color palette (achieved with double straw camera filters) holds up at night, just as much as it does during the day.
Here’s Magic Mike’s writer, Reid Carolin, as Brooke’s date, Paul. Paul fucking rocks. His pontificating dialogue, his attachment to his cell phone, drinking wine when Brooke is drinking beer, the lame clothes, awkward facial hair – Carolin plays a douche to perfection.
How quickly the film establishes Mike as a genuinely good guy. Respectful, responsible, good work ethic, and always has a friend’s back. It would be so easy to play this character as a jock asshole, but Tatum was so smart to infuse charm into the character.
I love the framing of this shot. Putting your subjects in the lower third of the frame disobeys all convention of cinematography. But holy shit if it doesn’t work perfectly here.
The only time the yellow color grading goes away is when the boys are on stage, presented in all their natural glory.
Dallas nervously watching as Adam dances his first ever set. McConaughey’s intensity in this movie is hysterical.
Back to the sound design. It’s so rare for a mainstream American film to feature overlapping dialogue. But Soderbergh encourages it here. Everyone in this room is engaged in a different conversation, which is exactly what would be happening in real life during this situation.
This shot rocks. We start on Adam’s face and tilt down to reveal the birthday girl getting ready to go down on him, then we keep tilting, the camera flips upside down, tilts back up and shows Mike making out with another girl. Seriously, who the hell has the stones to pull off shots like this?
Mike’s backflip off the bridge.
The way the majority of Mike’s signature dance to “Pony” is shot from Brooke’s (Cody Horn) perspective.
Again, no one starts a scene with the subjects out of frame. I LOVE that Soderbergh has fun with the camera.
Love how Soderbergh often drops the natural sound and plays a song over sequences in the film. The introduction of the sandbar party is one of the best examples of this.
“She’s a little… uptight.”
“Okay well we’re fucking her not taking her to dinner.”
Dallas’ financial monologue on the sandbar is my favorite scene of McConaughey’s in the film. Absolutely priceless. And what is he drinking out of? A fucking lead wine glass?
The jump cut of Mike calling Johnna, to them lying on his couch post coital.
Also, this is my favorite shot in the film. It’s so simple, yet so unique. Love the way both of their faces are seen, even though they aren’t looking at each other.
Dallas getting upset that Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) is standing on his chair. “Richie, that’s fuckin’ microsuede, man.”
Love that the preppy frat boys are all short and skinny. The way they stand in the background is hilarious. They know they can’t do shit.
The way the chick who’s rolling on ecstasy just watches as the fight goes down.
I’ve always wondered if Ryan, Johnna’s surprise fiancé, knows about Johnna’s proclivity for screwing other people.
I don’t know what’s better: Dallas and Mike coming this close to fighting, or Adam’s excitement at anticipating the fight.
Doesn’t matter what you think about this movie or Channing Tatum in general, the dance scene that begins with Mike spinning around is fucking impressive.
A shot from below (even though the stage isn’t clear)? Hell yes.
Mike telling Adam, “Yo, we’re gonna get fucked up tonight.” Because sometimes when you’re having a shitty day, that’s all you can do.
Mike and Adam’s fucked up night is my favorite sequence in the film. The black and white drug deal, rolling in the club, the blue and red sex scene, the floating camera throughout – incredible.
This shot. The bold angle really puts you in Adam’s hungover frame of mind.
Mike and Brooke’s argument has been criticized a lot, what with Tatum’s stammering and Horn’s unemotional delivery. But I love it. The way Tatum and Horn speak are such audacious character choices, and I’ve always found truth in them. People stammer when they’re upset in real life. People scoff and act detached. I understand why some don’t like watching it in a movie, but it’s always felt real to me.
Adam’s arrogant speech to Mike. Really seals the deal that Adam is a complete and utter selfish asshole. (And the way we can hear the ice bang against his plastic cup is a great touch.)
Soderbergh is a self-proclaimed font snob, and his font choices are always on point.
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