"Marked by Soderbergh's beautiful filmmaking style ... Logan Lucky is a "welcome back" for a director who really didn't leave - just reminded us how special he is."
by Steve Pulaski
Logan Lucky opens with the camera focused on Farrah Mackenzie, who plays the daughter of Channing Tatum's Jimmy Logan, and the camera slowly pulls back to show she's sitting on the railing of her porch. Then it pulls back even further to show Jimmy working on his car and requesting a series of tools one-by-one from his daughter, who can discern pliers, wrenches, and bolts better than me. Then it finally pulls back far enough to get the car, Tatum, Mackenzie, and their house all in one gorgeous frame.
This signified one thing to me and that's the most important detail of Logan Lucky - Steven Soderbergh (the Oceans trilogy, Bubble, Magic Mike) is back to making movies and the landscape of American film is indeed a little bit brighter. He storms on the scene in the middle of a dreadfully empty month, livening up cinemas with a very funny, kinetic crime-caper that gives power to the disillusioned and does so with great spirit.
The film revolves around the (mostly failed) ambitions of the Logan siblings in North Carolina. Jimmy is a down-on-his-luck laborer who has just lost another mining job due to being an insurance liability. Mellie (Riley Keough) spends most of her days assisting Jimmy's daughter with competing in a beauty pageant/singing contest, and Clyde (Adam Driver) is an Iraq war veteran owning and operating a dive bar with a prosthetic forearm. The Logan's are widely regarded for being failures, always low on money with their most technological accoutrements being a 1983 F-150 truck and a television set.
When Jimmy loses his job, he gets together with Clyde to hatch a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway blind during their Coca-Cola 600 race. Jimmy learns the interworkings of the Speedway's system of handling cash while underground in the mines, seeing that cash is transmitted through subterranean pipelines that arrive at a giant, secured bank vault where the money is sloppily stacked to the ceiling. The two enlist in the talents of the incarcerated Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), a gruff but dashing criminal with a bleach-blonde buzzcut that makes him look like Joe Montana, and his two hick brothers, all of whom pros at safe-cracking and the little details of pulling off an operation bigger than all of them.
To meticulously describe their plan is foolish because watching it unfold is the fun of Logan Lucky. Here's a heist film that celebrates the joy of process rather than the perfunctory police-chase. We know the cops are going to find out and we think we know how the criminals will fall. The true entertainment is the way Jimmy, Clyde, and Joe all carry out this seamless plan for no other reason besides wanting not to have to worry about finance any longer. Hell or High Water and the recent remake of Going in Style made sure to include the (very valid) urgency and anger directed towards the often unsympathetic banks mortgaging the futures of people. Screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (who may or may not even be real, sources say) has no problem making Logan Lucky a heist film that essentially shrugs its shoulders and says, "I just wanted the money."
Also in Soderbergh's latest are a handful of great supporting performances and cameos from recognizable actors. Look closely and you might be able to tell the cocksure, flamboyant race-car driver is actually Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane donning garb that makes him look like a cash-strapped "Weird Al" Yankovic impersonator. Familiar faces of a forensics expert and a prison inmate belong to Hillary Swank and Jesco White, respectively, and both charm in the moments their talents are used to make an already fluid heist movie that much more well put-together. Dwight Yoakam also makes a memorable appearance as a warden in denial about the state of his prison in one of the most priceless roles of the year.
Logan Lucky also utilizes the John Denver classic "Take Me Home, Country Roads" remarkably making it the third film (to my knowledge) to integrate a Denver ballad into an integral part of the movie. Alien: Covenant did it with the same song and the Netflix film Okja employed "Annie's Song" as uniquely as any film might ever in the future. One of Denver's biggest hits does its part to add to the flavor of the environment of the deep south and serves as a gentle reminder of the culture in which we're immersed for two hours.
Logan Lucky stands on its own, but could be a comfortable evening pairing with the vulgar but stylish southern-fried drama Killer Joe by director William Friedkin (The Exorcist). It has that kind of personality, with a slew of actors playing against conventional casting while showing their range as performers. Tatum is as good as he's ever been, Driver continues to prove to me I was dead wrong when I thought of him as a nuisance in This is Where I Leave You many moons ago, and Craig breaks out instead of being a bland, background personality. Marked by Soderbergh's beautiful filmmaking style, where shots are simple yet so effectively conceived by way of angles, tracking montages, and spatial awareness and a frequently hilarious script, Logan Lucky is a "welcome back" for a director who really didn't leave - just reminded us how special he is.
Steve's Grade: A-