Logan LuckyReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/18/17 08:45:36
“Logan Lucky” marks the first time that Steven Soderbergh has directed a feature film since announcing his “retirement” in 2013 following the release of “Side Effects.” Now four years may not seem like that long of a “retirement”—there are people with active careers who take that much time between projects—but for someone who had been averaging a film or two a year for more than a decade or so prior to his departure, there must have been some concern on his part about getting back into the groove again that not even the extensive work he did for cable television during that time (which included directing the acclaimed film “Behind the Candelabra” and every episode of “The Knick” as well as producing a number of series that included an adaptation of his film “The Girlfriend Experience”) could completely alleviate. As it turns out, those worries were for nothing because within just a few minutes, it becomes clear that not only is Soderbergh back, he has returned in peak form with an utterly delightful riff on the caper film, a genre that he has had great success with in the past with the “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy, that is one of the most sheerly entertaining works of his career to date.Soderbergh veteran Channing Tatum stars as Jimmy Logan, a good ol’ boy from Boone County, W. Va. who has a young daughter () that he dotes on, an ex-wife (Katie Holmes) who has remarried well and is making noises about moving out of state and who, as the film opens, has just lost his job working construction at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina because a visiting H.R. rep saw him walking with a slight limp—the result of an old high school football injury—that he neglected to mention on his application and which could be considered a pre-existing condition. This sounds like a piece of terrible luck and indeed, it would not be the first time that such a thing has befallen his family—his younger brother Clyde (Adam Driver), who lost his hand in Iraq, even speaks of “the Logan curse.” Apparently the only Logan who has managed to escape the curse is their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), a gearhead hairdresser who always turns up to save the day when, say, Jimmy forgets which day it is to take his daughter to the rehearsal for an upcoming beauty pageant.
However, Jimmy has a plan, based equally out of need, opportunity and the desire for strike back after the loss of his job, that he hopes will break the curse once and for all and lead to a better life for him and his family—having inadvertently discovered the method in which the Charlotte Speedway moves its cash around during big events into a giant underground vault where the proceeds will be later collected, he devises a plan to rob the vault while a NASCAR race is going on. He is not looking for a massive score—he even deliberately picks what is traditionally the least popular race on the schedule to make the score—but still feels more than justified in his proposed actions. To make his plan work, however, he requires the services of explosives expert Joe Bang (newcomer Daniel Craig) and Joe in turn requires the assistance of his two younger brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson). Getting the brothers to agree is not much of a problem—they just need to be assured that there is a moral justification for the robbery and their definition of that phrase proves to be helpfully elastic. Joe’s participation is a bit trickier because he is currently serving the last six months of a prison sentence and does not want to jeopardize his parole. Therefore, in addition to pulling off the actual robbery, Jimmy and Clyde also have to figure out how to break Joe out of prison, get him to the racetrack to do his thing and then break him back into jail without anyone noticing his absence.
You will notice that I have not really given many details about the details regarding how the heist is supposed to go off and that is because of what is easily the cleverest narrative gambit in the screenplay by Rebecca Blunt (whose first credit this is, though there has been some suggestion that this is actually an alias for someone else). In most films of this type, there is almost always a scene early in the proceedings in which the particulars of the heist are laid out in intricate detail so that we know in advance what is supposed to happen and can then sit back and observe as things go sideways. This time around, there is no such scene explaining how things are supposed to with the screenplay revealing those points as they are (or are not, as the case may be) happening. For Soderbergh, this approach must have come as a relief and an opportunity to do something new in what has become a familiar genre for him. For viewers, it is equally rewarding because we are pulled deeper into the proceedings than we might ordinarily have been and generates a different kind of excitement than is usually found in the typical heist movie.
Another thing about most films of this sort is that the screenplays spend so much time and energy setting up and executing the big set pieces involving the actual heisting that they tend to leave precious little time for anything else—the story is little more than an excuse for said set pieces and the characters tend to be perfunctorily drawn with each one being allowed maybe one or two differentiating quirks apiece so that people can tell them apart. “Logan Lucky,” on the other hand, is the rare heist film in which the non-heist elements are just as entertaining as the other stuff. We get a chance to really know the Logan siblings and understand what makes them tick and why they would attempt such an endeavor. We get real insight into the economic difficulties of the area where the story is set that not only helps to serve as a justification for the robbery but which also serve as a key element in its planning. There are also a number of details that help to suggest that the characters are people with real lives and interests and who are not just simply caricatures being jerked around by the needs of the plot—the stuff involving Jimmy’s daughter and the beauty pageant may seem silly for a while but pays off beautifully with a moment that puts all of “Little Miss Sunshine” to shame. And while it may not come as a shock to learn that things more or less work out for those who deserve a happy ending, Soderbergh adds an extra element, much as he did in the final shot of “Ocean’s Eleven,” that adds a little dramatic weight to the proceedings to keep it from devolving into total fantasy.
Like many of Soderbergh’s past efforts, “Logan Lucky” features a large and eclectic cast that play off of each other in fascinating and undeniably entertaining ways. In his fourth collaboration with the director, Channing Tatum is winning as Jimmy, a slightly past his prime riff on his “Magic Mike” character who nicely embodies the Southern working class experience without ever devolving into cheap condescension—throughout the film, you are always laughing with him and not at him. As the brother living under the twin shadows of Jimmy and the alleged family curse, Adam Driver is equally good and the two make for a strangely inspired comedy team. Daniel Craig plays things a little broader, starting with his Appalachian accent, as Joe Bang but he is clearly having so much fun doing it that it is impossible to begrudge him for any of it.
While it may seem at first glance to be a guy-heavy movie, it is the women who actually end up making the most impact despite their comparatively limited screen time. Riley Keough, who starred in the TV adaptation of “The Girlfriend Experience,” may not get quite as much to do as Tatum, Driver and Craig but she makes so much out of her material with her undeniable on-screen charisma that she heists ever single scene that she appears in and leaves you yearning for more. The other big scene stealer here is Hillary Swank, who turns up in the late innings as a quirky FBI agent doggedly investigating the robbery and who intuition tells her that something is amiss. If someone were to one day do a crossover movie in which her character teamed up with Marge Gunderson from “Fargo” to solve mysteries together, I for one would be giddy beyond measure.Although 2017 has already seen the release of more than its fair share of genuinely good movies, things have not be especially strong on the comedy front, as anyone who managed to make it through the lumpy likes of “Baywatch” and “The House” can attest. “Logan Lucky” single-handedly turns that trend around (hell, the comedic black hole known as Seth Macfarlane turns up for a few scenes in the barely recognizable role of a jerky British race team owner and ever he scores some laughs) by taking a premise that might have once upon a time driven an adequate Hal Needham jam and transforming it into one of the funniest and most sheerly entertaining films of the year. A work that could play equally well in drive-ins and art houses, it is a film that is almost too good to come out during the dog days of late August, a period that usually finds studios dumping their dregs in anticipation of the imminent Oscar derby. This may not go down as one of the most ambitious or profound works in the Soderbergh oeuvre (although it does touch, however lightly, on genuine socio-economic concerns that help to lend a little edge to the proceedings) but it is one of the most compulsively entertaining things that he has ever done. If this is the kind of eminently stylish and self-assured work that comes after taking a four-year hiatus from feature filmmaking, perhaps more directors should start looking into extended vacations as well.
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