In times like these, it’s difficult to know what’s real and what isn’t, what’s sane and what isn’t, or where exactly good in the world still exists. But one thing I know with 100 percent certainty is that the world is a better place when Steven Soderbergh (the OCEAN’S trilogy, OUT OF SIGHT, TRAFFIC, ERIN BROCKOVICH) is making movies in it. Granted, since his “retirement” after the 2013 film SIDE EFFECTS, Soderbergh hasn’t exactly been sitting on his hands. He helmed all 20 episodes of the acclaimed Cinemax series “The Knick,” he directed the fantastic HBO movie BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, and he acted as cinematography for 2015’s MAGIC MIKE XXL, the sequel (which Gregory Jacobs directed) to his 2012 hit MAGIC MIKE. And with a fresh to-do list of future films already pinned to the board (he supposedly has his next two films already shot), something about the world of movies feels a little more comforting.
His latest, LOGAN LUCKY, is one of his absolute flat-out funniest, but as many of his works do, it also finds ways to be smart and quite moving, as it tells an underdog story of a family that has been underestimated (in terms of capabilities and intelligence) for generations. The movie is about two brothers who seek to reverse what some see as a family curse that results in everything ranging from bad luck to outright catastrophe. Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) concoct a heist of epic proportions. Jimmy is the more practical brother—a construction worker, divorced from a wife (Katie Holmes) who wanted a husband with a brighter future, and an adoring daughter (Farrah Mackenzie), whom he feels he is constantly disappointing. Clyde is something of a family historian, only the history he focuses upon exclusively involves the family’s alleged curse.
The heist involves siphoning loose cash out of a vault built underneath the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway during a NASCAR race. The plan is detailed and relies on a great number of factors that logically don’t seem like they’d be able to line up, and yet they mostly do. As the audience, we are not privy to all of the details, which at first feels like a time-saving device when in fact it’s an essential part of the overall plan—only let the various players in this caper know what they need to and nothing more, including the audience. The sharp screenplay comes courtesy of one “Rebecca Blunt,” a pseudonym, who some say is actually Soderbergh’s wife, the former TV host Jules Asner.
But the heist is simply an excuse to assemble a group of questionable characters, led by Daniel Craig’s explosives expert Joe Bang, whose biggest hang up in being a part of this event is that he’s still in prison. But the brothers have a plan. Also along for the ride is an almost unrecognizable Seth MacFarlane as the head of a company that sponsors one of the cars in the race, driven by Sebastian Stan. Hilary Swank and Macon Blair play a pair of FBI agents investigating the crime after the fact, while Dwight Yoakam plays the hard-ass warden of the prison where Joe Bang is being held and is forced to deal (or not deal) with an uprising happening right under his nose.
My personal favorite character in LOGAN LUCKY is that of Logan sister Mellie (Riley Keough of American Honey and It Comes at Night). She’s the smartest, savviest one of the bunch and never feels the need to brag about it. The Appalachian hillbilly accents and somewhat exaggerated behaviors would seem to indicate that LOGAN LUCKY would be a film that draws most of its humor out of its Southern-ness, but that turns out to be something of a misdirection. In the same way that not everyone with a British accent is smart, not everyone that sounds like a redneck is dumb, even if they play dumb from time to time to appear as though they’d be incapable of pulling off a job of this magnitude. Soderbergh has always had fun toying with our expectations about his characters, and it’s one of the many reasons I’m so glad he’s back on the books and behind the camera (literally, since he also acts as his own cinematographer and editor).
The overall vibe of LOGAN LUCKY is all about fun and entertainment. This things never stops moving, although rarely in a straight line. Obstacles pop up during the planning and execution of the heist, and there are genuine thrills as we watch the criminals find a smart way to improvise a way to avoid being caught. The conversations and shared mental energy between Tatum and Driver are a thing to behold, and their comedic timing is so stellar, I demand to see them in many more movies together. Keough has a great time being the one who makes certain the outside world has no idea what’s going on in and around the vault. And Craig seems like a live wire, ready to detonate at any moment, but when he opens up the science part of the his brain, he’s a work of pure, mountain-bred genius.
LOGAN LUCKY is easily one of the funniest things you’ll see this year, but it moves so far beyond simply trying to make us laugh that you may have to watch it a few times to understand how beautifully subversive Soderbergh is in fleshing out his characters. He will not allow them to be stereotypes, and as he reminds us in many of his films, a person can be many people wrapped up in one. And I’m not quite sure I understand those with issues that it feels like a retread of OCEAN’S ELEVEN or its sequels; I really like those movies, so that doesn’t register as a negative in my book. Plus, the emphasis placed on region and class gives it an entirely different feel, even if it is another heist film. Hot damn, I loved this movie.