Soderbergh is back, baby! Logan Lucky is the director’s first film since his “retirement” after 2013’s Behind the Candelabra made for HBO. Dropping out of film (but he directed every episode of The Knick and shot and edited Magic Mike XXL) after an insanely great run of five films (The Informant!, Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike, and Side Effects) the announcement seems more to do with how he views the state of cinema than a lack of wanting to work.
Logan Lucky easily sits alongside the director’s recent work in terms of quality while hearkening back to his Ocean’s trilogy. And that reference is purposeful, as a news report late in the film refer to the events within as “Ocean’s 7-11.” Soderbergh is winking at us, knowing how much everyone seems to enjoy fan theories and ‘film connections’ these days.
As alluded to by that joke, Logan Lucky is a “getting the team together” heist film, but instead of the glamor of rich people looting Las Vegas, the characters are hillbillies robbing a NASCAR race. The robbery itself is as clever and complex as anything Danny Ocean ever attempted, even if the thieves are more likely to wear overalls than impeccably tailored suits.
Channing Tatum (three of those five films mentioned above also star him) is the lead role of unlucky Jimmy Logan, who gets fired from a construction job due to his limp and subsequently masterminds the robbery. His brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), is similarly plagued by the family curse, having lost an arm in Iraq. Their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough) is unaffected by the curse, being a successful hairdresser and excellent driver, despite being viewed as trashy by Jimmy’s ex-wife Bobbie (Katie Holmes). The siblings recruit Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), an explosive experts, and who requires the involvement of his brothers (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) in order to join the caper.
From there, a fun ride unfolds, as comedic and thrilling as anything Clooney and crew dazzled us with. Logan Lucky‘s real heist, however, is hiding a deeply humanistic movie underneath it’s boastfully entertaining surface. For the first half of the film, it is easy to think that the film is making fun of its characters. The Ocean’s crew never feels like underdogs in this way, and it is really Soderbergh (and may-or-may-not-be-real screenwriter Rebecca Blunt) using our own bias against us. Only the two Bang brothers come off as actually dumb, but even they have their moments.
That is in part because of the film’s decidedly mosey-like pace. While the pieces are moving forward, the film isn’t in a hurry to get to its endpoints, allowing all of the characters room to breathe. Adam Driver benefits the most from this, as the quietest Logan sibling his facial expressions and flat delivery of dialogue aren’t lost, even when sharing screentime with the bigger performances in the rest of the film, including Seth MacFarlane’s ridiculous British accent as a charlatan energy drink promoter/mascot.
But if fortune favors us and we get a Logan Luckier, that film should put Mellie in the lead role. Her character is the West Virginia counterpart to Marisa Tomei’s My Cousin Vinny character, deceptively well-adjusted with a strong command of her fashion choices, her sexuality, and manual transmissions. Her brothers never question her driving ability or knowledge, and even Bobbie seems to respect her, even if it is out of fear. The film doesn’t spend as much time on her as it does her siblings, but Riley Keough makes the most of it. She and Mona Lisa Vito would be fast friends.
Daniel Craig’s performance is the one that will likely strike up the most buzz, however. Seeing him here makes it easy to be even more upset over Spectre and his likely return for the next Bond installment. He embraces Joe Bang’s prison stripes, tattoos, and scientific knowledge with full heart. Bang laughs at his own jokes, and genuinely seems to be the most fun-loving version of the “crazy one on the crew” ever committed to the screen. He would tell Bats (Jamie Foxx’s Baby Driver character) to relax and get him to laugh at a dumb joke. And yet, even moreso than the Logans themselves, is the heart of the film.
For a film designed to come across as agenda-less entertainment, Soderbergh serves up a film that is truly about the value of being proud of where you come from, and embracing your own culture. Bobbie and her new husband (David Denman, perfectly cast as the least successful member of a car dealership family) keep trying to take Jimmy’s daughter farther away from him, both geographically and culturally. It isn’t that Jimmy thinks that his lifestyle or poverty is more valuable, but that knowing about fixing cars, John Denver, and trips for ice cream are better ways to bond with his daughter than Fast and the Furious movies.
Logan Lucky never rises to being the most thrilling heist movie or the funniest comedy, but its well-drawn characters and spirit make it the easiest of recommendations.
Logan Lucky opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.