Back in 2013, after making the underrated Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from feature filmmaking. It was a bit of a blow because Soderbergh is certainly a director with a unique voice & style & none of his releases signaled a slump that would make him want to take a step back. He’s also young enough that he definitely had a lot more to deliver to the masses on a creative level.
Soderbergh still kept busy, primarily as the main creative force behind the TV series The Knick, which he directed, executive produced, shot, and edited. Perhaps his creative muscles missed the lure of creative filmmaking because his retirement has turned into a hiatus with the release of Logan Lucky. As the critics rolled on his latest feature all I could think was thank God this guy is back because he has delivered once again. Logan Lucky is decidedly offbeat & won’t appeal to everyone but its hillbilly approach to an Ocean’s 11 style heist is at times laugh put loud funny & it feels original. If the film doesn’t find its audience in the cinema, I think it’s destined for some kind of cult status down the road.
Logan Lucky is a comedy-caper film about the heist of a large number of bills from the “secure” vault at a North Carolina speedway during a major NASCAR event. Channing Tatum, who has been one of Soderbergh’s go-to actors for a while, plays Jimmy Logan, a recently unemployed construction worker who decides to replace his hard-earned pay with the ill-gotten gains from a robbery. Having participated in an excavation project under the speedway, he has the inside track on how such a robbery can be accomplished. He invites the participation of his one-armed brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), and his sister, Mellie (Riley Keogh). However, the three of them aren’t enough. They need an expert safe cracker and the only one they know is the aptly-named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), who is currently incarcerated and therefore unavailable. Jimmy considers this a mild inconvenience and decides that the scheme will also involve breaking Joe out of prison so he can do the job then returning him before anyone notices he’s missing.
Most of the tension is a result of the bumbling of the criminals – these aren’t the “sharpest tools in the shed” and it seems unlikely they’ll be able to pull off something major. At first, Soderbergh seems to be using regional stereotypes for comedic purposes, he pulls the rug out from under us by making us reconsider whether all the players are really as stupid as they initially seem. (Some undoubtedly are, but others maybe not so much). That’s the brilliance of Soderbergh’s direction. He makes us believe one thing, when the reality of the situation is far smarter than it seems. It lacks the polish of an Ocean’s 11 but it’s just as fun to see it come together.
Despite some cases of dry and screwball humor, the film is grounded by the lead character played by Tatum. Jimmy’s character is the best developed of everyone which is fitting since he sits at the story’s focal point. He’s presented as a good-natured, hard-working guy who loves his young daughter, doesn’t dislike his ex-wife, is loyal to his friends and family and aspires to be known as a responsible provider. He wants the crime to be victimless and, in that, he’s largely successful. Channing Tatum had proven himself over the years to be a capable actor by delivering a pretty diverse filmography that showcases surprising range. Add this as another win for the actor who seems to enjoy proving the naysayers wrong about his ability.
The supporting cast is also top-notch. Adam Driver, who I only know as the emo Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is hilariously funny as Jimmy’s loyal brother. He gets much of the film’s laughs and much like Tatum, he manages to humanize him amongst all the absurdity that is going on. Then there is Daniel Craig who is clearly having fun playing someone not nearly as suave as 007. He is very effective as the loose cannon & he seemed to be a crowd favorite during my screening. Supporting roles filled by Riley Keogh, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, & Hilary Swank is also memorable in their own right as they all appear to be having a lot of fun.
Off-screen controversy, although minor, has accompanied the release of Logan Lucky. The existence of the credited screenwriter, Rebecca Blunt, has been called into question by The Hollywood Reporter, which believes Blunt to be a pseudonym. This isn’t implausible – the only interaction the cast had with Blunt was via e-mail, she has no other credits to her name, and Soderbergh is known for using a pseudonym. This could be a ruse to gain the film more publicity but Soderbergh may not need it. He raised money for the film outside the studio system & essentially used that to market the film his own way. This tactic alone makes him one of the more interesting directors working today.
Logan Lucky, much like Baby Driver, is the originality the summer movie season needs. It arrives as the much publicized lackluster summer at the movies comes to a close but at least it allows it to go out with a bit of a creative bang, rather than a whimper.
Reel Talk gives Logan Lucky 3.5 Reels