Logan Lucky is a welcomed return to form from eclectic filmmaker Steven Soderbergh who practically mastered the heist genre with the Ocean’s Trilogy Out of Sight, and The Limey just to name a few. Fresh off his ten-minute retirement and back with a confident vim, Soderbergh’s latest entry is a charming and breezy southern fried caper flick about two red-state brothers who plan to rip off one of the biggest raceways in Trump country.
Like a Country Song: The film follows Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum, in top form), a West Virginia country boy who unfairly lost his construction job due to a football injury that left him with a limp. When times are tough, Jimmy finds solace in a John Denver song and like the best country songs, it’s easy to take lyrics at face value but underneath, there’s a pain there that’s only longing for the simplest comforts in life; something that we all can relate to regardless of class or status. Jimmy is the living epitome of every country song you know: lost a job, lost his wife, and about to lose his daughter. Jimmy’s ex-wife (Katie Holmes) has custody of their pageant-chasing little girl and plans to move out of state with her new husband (David Denman). He spends most nights at the roadside dive where his war vet younger brother Clyde (played with sheer delight by Adam Driver) bartends. Clyde lost his lower left arm in battle and constantly reminds his brother that maybe their lot in life isn’t going to amount to much more than what they’ve got now. Reluctant to accept that, Jimmy concocts a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway just across state line in North Carolina. Soderbergh spends a lot of time with these characters, fleshing out their objectives which help shed any stereotypes we might have of them. They just want their lives to be a bit better than what it is now.
A Well-Oiled Machine: No heist film is complete without the obligatory notion of “Putting a Team Together” and Logan Lucky revels in all the genre trappings like a giddy redneck at a monster truck rally. The Logan brothers count on their hairdress/speed demon sister Mellie (Riley Keough) who knows a thing or two about American made muscle cars and for professional help, they recruit explosive expert Joe Bang (a wonderfully over-the-top Daniel Craig) who delivers what his name suggests. They just have to break him out of jail first, of course, and call on Bang’s own brothers to help them and round out the team. Soderbergh masterfully weaves us in and out of the plot like a pro, pacing the film skillfully, revealing clues and details when he feels he should and even manages to give us strikingly poignant moments amidst the mayhem and trickery. Yet he’s also keenly aware that heist films have the pleasure of living in the gray area where reality and fantasy collide, and with all the joys Logan Lucky throws at us, it can often sacrifice tone and believability for the sake of genre convention (something Soderbergh confidently toys with in all his heist films). But that’s a minor quibble. There’s a lot of great stuff to take in. Tatum, Driver and the cast are at their A game. He gets a juicy, wide-eyed performance out of Craig, complete with a joyful twang. With some rather clever roles for Hilary Swank, Seth McFarlane, Dwight Yoakum and Sebastian Stan, a clever screenplay from the mysterious new screenwriter Rebecca Blunt, and vivid camerawork from Soderbergh himself (as his DP pseudonym Peter Andrews), the whole thing is just too much fun that complaining about minor plotholes and misstep just seem petty.
They’re Callin’ it Ocean’s 7-Eleven: Well into the film, a TV news reporter interviews an eyewitness and, in true Soderbergh self-referential fashion, she literally calls the events as that. It gets a knowing laugh because there’s a familiarity to Logan Lucky’s pacing and confidence that feels like Danny Ocean and his suave set of cronies. Instead of Armani suits and the Bellagio, we get Dungarees and the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The joy of heist films is the very procedural nature of it all; the specificity and the planning. It’s how you go about it that makes it fun and with Logan Lucky, the twists and turns within the confines of the genre are delicious and genuinely funny. You’re in for quite a fun ride.
Logan Lucky is a solid addition to the heist genre due to the deft and proficient directing of Steven Soderbergh who knows this genre better than any of his contemporaries. Despite a few weak plot details, there’s a boldness to the film that’s unabashedly off-the-wall yet amazingly full of heart. Lots of filmmakers make heist films, but only Soderbergh makes them this sublime.
**** 1/2 Stars