CRIME DOES PAY: Logan Lucky and The Nile Hilton Incident

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Everyone in the US seems to agree that the working class is under siege. And it’s still unclear whether there is any real relief in sight.
I’m not sure whether this is the reason filmmakers have been creating stories that focus on the more downtrodden in our society (zeitgeists are almost impossible to recognize until we are out of them), but last year we had Hell or High Water, and more recently we’ve had Patti Cake$, Beach Rats and the topic of this review, Logan Lucky.
All the films have fallen into various genres and niches. Hell or High Water is a modern western/crime film; Patti Cake$ is a musical; Beach Rats is a coming out story; and Logan Lucky is a heist film.


All have, as their central characters, people struggling just to make ends meet or who are lost in a world that seems to have no future for them.


Before the fall of the Motion Picture Production Code in the late 1950’s, crime could not pay. This was just as true for heist films. No matter how much you sympathized with the “bad guys”, they had to pay the penalty. That is until at least the late 1960’s when The Thomas Crown Affair followed by The Hot Rock became the first films I remember in which the bad guys got away with it.


But though that aspect of the morality of crime capers has changed, I do think that they have retained a couple of the commandments.


One is that the people being relieved of their wealth must be able to afford it, perhaps even morally compromised in the way they obtained their filthy lucre in the first place.


This usually means banks, casinos, and the 1% who couldn’t possibly have made it to where they are without taking advantage of the other 99.


This, I think, is where Will Smith’s 2015 film Focus went wrong. In the first half, the characters are doing little but taking advantage of the common man, robbing people of the kind who made up the film’s audience. This meant they weren’t brilliant minds going after those who in some way might deserve it. They were just ordinary, run of the mill grifters and scam artists.


The second rule is that the caper has to be difficult and clever, even graceful and aesthetically pleasing in some way.


Which brings us back to Logan Lucky, about two brothers having trouble meeting their obligations, one a bartender who lost a lower arm in combat, and another with a bum leg which gets him fired from a mining operation. The two are about as working class as can be, so naturally they do what they need to do to make money-rob a race track.


The two brothers are played by Adam Driver (the bartender) and Channing Tatum (the bum legger). One of the more charming elements of the film is that Driver and Tatum, based on looks, would never be suspected of being related in real life, but from the first moment they interact, they have you utterly convinced they do indeed have the same last name. The two just have an endearing chemistry.


Overall, Logan Lucky is laid back with a nice quirky, loopy fun to it, with just a pinch of good ol’ boy for flavoring.


The heist itself is incredibly clever and doubly smart (though part of a prison escape seems a bit too convenient and clunky). There is a great bit of excitement in ultimately seeing how all the various elements come together.


But at the end, though I enjoyed it more than the Ocean’s films, also directed as here by Steven Soderbergh, I don’t think it quite comes up to the classics in the genre, including Rififi and The Asphalt Jungle. I think at times it lacks as much tension and suspense as one might want.


It could be that the heist itself is just a bit too clever, too complicated, too aesthetically pleasing that the making sure it makes sense to the audience may be slowing it down a bit.


At the same time, it’s about as enjoyable a time waster as one is bound to see.


The admirable screenplay is a first by Rebecca Blunt.


And with Daniel Craig making a simply smashing début as a safe cracker who has to be gotten out of prison for the robbery, then returned before it is noticed that he is gone. I predict a strong career for this feisty newcomer.


Oh, yes, Hillary Swank makes an appearance as a Faye Dunaway type investigator.


Writer/director Tarik Saleh’s new crime drama, The Nile Hilton Incident, is a blink and you’ll miss it release. Though it won the World Cinema drama award at Sundance, it was not released with the greatest of fanfare.


But it is one of the finer films to be released this year.


In this story, the bad guys also get away with it, but not our hero, Police Commissioner Noredin Mustafa, dramatized here as a relatively average officer who spends most of his time collecting bribes from business owners.


A woman is found dead at the Nile Hilton in Cairo, Egypt. The powers that be want it hushed up and resolved as soon as possible because one of the primary suspects is a wealthy businessman who has friends in high places, especially the state police, as corrupt as the street corner cops.


But there’s one problem: there was a witness, a hotel maid, an illegal immigrant. When the case becomes personal, Noredin goes against those in power, including his own fellow officers. But can Noredin find the witness before anyone else does or before he is knocked off himself?


Based on a true story, The Nile Hilton Incident is a taut thriller that shines a not particularly flattering light into how Cairo police handle crimes. Everything and everyone is corrupt and the system survives on a somewhat unstable foundation of everyone scratching each other’s backs. Some of the more interesting scenes is when a character suddenly realizes that the protection he was certain was there, is no longer.


The actual person guilty of the murders is not a surprise and there is no Agatha Christie revelation of twists and turns. The story survives on its almost naturalistic look at how things are done in Egypt.


It all takes place during the days leading up to the Egyptian revolution in 2011, when its citizens were tired of a government riddled with corruption.


Noredin is portrayed powerfully by Egyptian star Fares Fares. He is better known over here for also being in the three Department Q mysteries, playing Senator Vespa in Rogue One, Hakim in Zero Dark Thirty and one of the ensemble of the television series Tyrant.

So tell me what you think.

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