Logan Lucky | Steven Soderbergh | August 18, 2017
Director Steven Soderbergh makes his return to feature filmmaking after a short retirement that really was more of a hiatus, especially considering this retirement was shorter than the time some directors take in-between their films (his last feature film was 2013’s Side Effects). During his time away from Hollywood, he created two seasons of The Knick, handled the cinematography for Magic Mike XXL and executively produced The Girlfriend Experience. That’s some retirement.
He’s returned to us in the form of Logan Lucky, a picture that is equal parts heist film as it is a comedy. Think of it as a blue-collar Ocean’s Eleven, or as the film itself beats us all to the punch calling the heist, Oceans 7-11. Soderbergh is always one step ahead.
Jimmy (Channing Tatum) loses his job working in the tunnels under the Charlotte Motor Speedway because someone in Human Resources spotted him limping back to his car, making him an insurance liability. If you ask his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver), this happened as a result of the Logan family curse. Bad things have been happening to their family as far back as they can remember. Jimmy’s promising football career was cut short by a career-ending leg injury and Clyde lost his arm while serving in Iraq.
Curse be damned, Jimmy is tired of being kicked around and wants to reverse the curse to prove to his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) that he can be counted on. His ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) and her hot-shot car salesman husband Moody (David Denman) want to move to a fancy part of town which they know he couldn’t afford, but he won’t go down without a fight.
Fed up, he comes up with an elaborate heist to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. He has the advantage of being fully aware of the ins and outs of the tunnels and the easy access they have to the underground cash-handling system, consisting of pneumatic tubes where a buttload of cash flows as freely as the race cars above. Along with Clyde, he ropes in his sister Mellie (Riley Keough), as well as notorious bank robber Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) who has knack for explosives. Things don’t quite go according to plan (of course) and they’re forced to think on the go as the shit hits the fan.
Soderbergh, working from a script from first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt, fully dives into this southern territory and organically fits a wacky heist film into this world, giving us a colorful collection of characters who are a joy to spend time with. Watching the heist go down is all kinds silly and zany fun. The plot is spelled out clearly enough where you have a grasp of what exactly is going down, but they keep enough from you so you’re glued to the screen, eager to see how it all unfolds. Credit to the self-edit by Soderbergh, who fine-tunes things so Logan Lucky is always moving at a brisk speed, never slowing down for a second to take it out of its fine rhythm and groove.
Tatum, Driver, and Craig are a dynamic trio of unorthodox robbers who are slightly in over the heads, and it’s a thing of beauty to see them work together. They have plenty of moments of second guessing and bickering amongst themselves that had my screening laughing consistently from start to finish. While both Tatum and Driver have moments to shine, the glory of the film goes to Craig, who is reborn in the role (the jokey “Introducing” credit for Craig makes total sense), going all-in into the insane mind of this character and looking like he’s just happy to be off the set of 007 for a little while.
And then there’s Fish and Sam (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson), the dimwitted brothers of Joe Bang, who Bang requests join the heist as a part of a package deal to get him, and you have some hilarious moments that Soderbergh creates from just deadpan staging and some great timing – there’s a great deal of the Coen Brothers felt within this world. It doesn’t pretend that it’s trying to do anything but aim to please, and boy, does it succeed in winning fashion.
It’s not just belly laughs. The relationship between Jimmy and Sadie is genuinely heartwarming and gives the character some rooted motivation that isn’t just a selfish get-rich-quick scheme. One particular moment with John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is a bit obvious, but Soderbergh makes it feel poignant and it still finds a way to provide goosebumps and hit a tender emotional chord.
While the middle of the film had me gleefully smiling non-stop, Logan Lucky somewhat stumbles through the later part of its third act. There’s a somewhat misguided plot with Hilary Swank and Macon Blair as an FBI agents, which feels like it’s out of a different film entirely (the same can be said about Seth MacFarlane). Swank’s role felt undercooked as if more scenes were left on the cutting room floor. She’s not alone, as all of the leading ladies in the film (Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, and Katherine Waterson) didn’t have much to work with. The film doesn’t quite know how to end – with a few moments that felt like the proper ending and as a result, the tail end of its runtime was the rare moment where I noticed something off about the pacing. None of this was enough to ruin Logan Lucky but I got to say that it did kill some of its previous momentum.
In a way, it makes sense that Soderbergh returns to us with another heist film, dipping to the familiar well of a heist film that he proved to do so well with the Oceans trilogy, but giving it a new spin that felt fresh and familiar at the same time. With a stellar cast and some witty caper hijinks, Logan Lucky is a rather perfect way to wave goodbye to the summer movie season. Immediately upon leaving the theater, I was eager to spend some more time with this world and watch the film again, which is ultimately a very good sign.