The Bloody Carnage of ‘The Hunt’ Works Best When You Can Actually Recognize the Human Beings in the Game

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CREDIT: Universal

Starring: Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Justin Hartley, Glenn Howerton, Amy Madigan, Ethan Suplee, Macon Blair, J.C. Mackenzie, Wayne Duvall,  Reed Birney, Teri Wyble, Sturgill Simpson, Jim Klock, Usman Ally, Steve Coulter, Dean J. West, Steve Mokate

Director: Craig Zobel

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Pretty Much Every Suddenly Explosive Way to Die That You Can Think Of and A Bunch of Sarcastic Profanity

Release Date: March 13, 2020

At first glance, The Hunt looks like it could be a terrible case of bothsidesism. But in fact, it is actually operating in too much of a valley of extremes to really be about the miscalculation of the scale of political differences. Instead, this is a story of conspiracy theories and misunderstanding blown out of proportion to terrifying, blackly comic heights. In a spin on the ever-popular 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” a group of self-castigating liberals have captured some so-called “deplorables” and set them some loose to be hunted as sport. (Trump’s name is never mentioned, but the use of “our ratf—er-in-chief” makes clear the context we’re operating in.) These marks have been chosen because they’re exactly the sort of people who like to propagate the conspiracy theory that elites who run the world have been secretly capturing and hunting people for years.

The script, credited to Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, operates on the premise of “What if the worst things that political opponents accuse each other in this current climate turned out to be true?” The results, as lavishly staged by director Craig Zobel, would include a baroque series of impalings, short-range shotgun blasts, limbs ripped apart by explosions, and car tires rolling over heads. The mayhem is admirably relentless, but it’s a bit too cartoonish for a movie that wants to be about real characters with genuine pain. The hunted do say some pretty awful things, but hardly enough to justify getting a round of bullets blasted into their brains. And it’s certainly worth noting that since we focus on them and they’re the ones in a state of vulnerability, they serve as our point of identification. Anyone threatened with immediate death suddenly starts to look very, very human, especially in relation to the hunters, who mostly come off like a bunch of caricatures who are prone to tout superficial accomplishments like how Ava DuVernay liked one of their social media posts. For the most part, they do not register as actual people so much as agents of self-parodic vengeful chaos. (At least It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton, for one, can make a meal out of that task.)

Easily the most human of anyone in this melee is the deplorable played by Betty Gilpin. She’s shifty and resourceful enough to make you wonder if she really deserves punishment of any sort for whatever she’s guilty of, or even if she’s actually guilty of whatever she’s been accused of. The frustration that’s all over her face says, “I don’t care who you are at this point. I’m just going to do whatever I have to do to survive.” That’s kind of the fundamental, elemental appeal of a piece of exploitation like this: just who are we when faced with an outrageous, deadly situation? Too often, The Hunt‘s answer is, “A ridiculous gathering of stereotypes,” but often enough, its alternative answer is “It’s complicated. We don’t really know.”

The Hunt is Recommended If You Like: Bloody mayhem, satirical exploitation of stereotypes, mixed social messages

Grade: 3 out of 5 Deplorables

This Is a Movie Review: Steven Soderbergh and the ‘Logan Lucky’ Crew Pull Off a Heist at the Biggest Race of the Year

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Credit: Claudette Barius / Fingerprint Releasing | Bleecker Street

This review was originally published on News Cult in August 2017.

Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes, Dwight Yoakam, Seth MacFarlane, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Improvised Explosives and Slapstick Violence, Often Involving a Prosthetic

Release Date: August 18, 2017

If you follow the sports world, you will have noticed lately the several examples of the wonders that taking significant time off does towards extending a career. Roger Federer and Serena Williams, perhaps the two greatest tennis players of all time, have taken months-long breaks and at ages 36 and 35, respectively (ancient by athletic standards), they are still somehow in the primes of their careers. The physicality of sports and filmmaking are not exactly the same, but both can be similarly taxing. So while it is right to question the accuracy of Steven Soderbergh’s claim that he was retiring from directing, it is not right to question the wisdom of what he was actually doing, i.e., taking a nice, long, relaxing break, as Logan Lucky is the type of film that you make only when you are bursting with energy.

Logan is Soderbergh’s first directorial effort since 2013’s Side Effects and the HBO film Behind the Candelabra, but in premise, it most obviously brings to mind his Ocean’s trilogy. Recently unemployed West Virginia coal miner Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) recruits his one-armed Iraq War vet bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough), along with incarcerated bleached-blonde demolitions expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and Joe’s supposed computer expert brothers Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), to rob the cash deposits at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600, the longest annual race on the NASCAR calendar. So it is basically a hillbilly Ocean’s 11 (Logan’s 6, if you will), and that connection is referenced head-on with a sneakily well-timed joke. Now, don’t let that description fool you into thinking that this film looks down on the people that populate it. Its particular strength is how thoroughly and empathetically each character is rendered, despite their colorful personalities offering an easy temptation for stereotypes.

Accordingly, every actor is given plenty of opportunities to stretch, with Soderbergh guiding them along to their best instincts. Keough shines in her accounting of the West Virginia highway system, Driver is wholly convincing with his unassuming one-armed bartending prowess, Seth MacFarlane is Snidely Whiplash-levels ridiculous as a luxuriously coiffed, arrogant driver, Farrah Mackenzie (as Jimmy’s young daughter Sadie) charms enough to somehow make pageant culture a little less nauseating than usual, and when Special Agent Hilary Swank shows up, she makes an all-business demeanor just as much fun as criminality. But the biggest praise is rightfully reserved for Craig, who is delightfully unhinged in the friendliest way possible, as well as Dwight Yoakam, as a warden whose loss of control of his prison amazingly involves the most hilarious taking to task of George R.R. Martin I have ever witnessed.

The conflict of heist movies is such that their cool vibes always goad you into rooting for the criminals. While these robbers typically are not violent, and often target the most powerful and greediest, they are in fact still criminals. The fact that these are just movies should be enough to remove any feelings of moral crisis. But in case you want more than that, there is a Robin Hood-style resolution. Your mileage may vary on what that means in terms of ethical implications, but there is no doubt that it contributes to the good vibes.

Logan Lucky is Recommended If You Like: Heist Films, Southern-Fried Flavor, Feeling Pumped When You Walk Out of the Theater

Grade: 4 out of 5 Painted Cockroaches