Continuing my swing through the works of Steven Soderbergh, I landed last night on this slightly unusual entry in his filmography. I say “slightly” because the overriding theme of the film is one that has troubled the director for the past few years: the collapse of the middle class economy and the attempts by people within that dying group to try and pull themselves out of the morass. It’s there in THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, SIDE EFFECTS, and even CONTAGION. But it struck home the hardest (pun fully intended) with MAGIC MIKE. Watching poor Mike try to plead his case to the loan officer at his bank and struggle with what he has wrought as he gives almost his entire nest egg away is downright heartbreaking.
The next time you watch it, focus on those moments instead of the copious amounts of exposed flesh on screen (a challenge for many of you, I’m sure, but you can do it). I also would direct your attention to the incredibly realistic performances and dialogue throughout. I would not at all be surprised to learn that the dialogue had been improvised as that’s the level of purity that almost all the actors bring to it. You feel like these are conversations that you’re overhearing at another booth in a bar. Only poor Alex Pettyfer seems to struggle in this at times but is redeemed in some truly lovely conversations with his on-screen sister (the fantastic Cody Horn).
This is also one of Soderbergh’s most confidently directed and shot films. Interesting to think that he was just hitting a real stride when he decided to quit making movies for theatrical release. But I loved watching the way he used the deep yellows and blues of Florida to paint almost every scene that doesn’t take place inside the strip club. He was also able capture, just through the use of some red and blue light and some dissolves, the feeling of being completely out of your head on drug and drink. The scene where Alex gets completely gone on G (whatever the hell that is) is shockingly beautiful and figuratively intoxicating to watch. Then he counters the morning after by bathing it in a sickly green. Masterful.
I also quite admired the perfect natural rhythm he tapped into to go along with the dance sequences. Like SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, the film that he used as inspiration for this one, the dance segments ooze energy and ebullience. It helped, of course, that he had someone like Channing Tatum to film throughout as he has awe-inspiring control of his body. That he looks like a linebacker only adds to my appreciation of how he is able to move onscreen.
I love that Soderbergh never wants to make the same film twice. Even the sequels to OCEAN’S 11 that he made, don’t repeat the same camera moves and color palettes. That’s why I, and so many others, admire him so much. He’s constantly challenging himself with projects that seem outside of his scope. And he’s willing to admit when he has failed. Even beyond the massive amounts of money that MAGIC MIKE made, there’s no other way to look at it than as a complete artistic success.