Jimmy and Clyde attempt to pull off a large heist at the Nascar… Does it make a clean get away or does it just go around in circles? Nigel investigates.
Written By: Nigel Asipa
So Soderbergh’s back, and all the better for it.
After a 4 year hiatus from feature filmmaking (his last feature was Behing the Candlebra), Steven Soderbergh returns with his slick, charming and often funny take on the heist genre that manages to be sly, smart and sometimes poignant that hopefully will keep him in the feature film arena.
The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Traffic (for which he won the Oscar for Best Director), The Oceans trilogy and Behind the Candlebra are all projects I’ve admired. Like Paul Thomas Anderson, he’s a versatile artist who manages to keep his fans and admirers anticipated for what he’ll do next.
Soderbergh describes this piece as the southern cousin to Ocean’s Eleven but more grounded in reality. It’s been a while since I’d seen the aforementioned franchise but from what I do remember, it was an ensemble of smooth thieves pulling off an intricate heist that made the experience almost alluring because they’re appealing and they know what they’re doing much of the time.
With Logan Lucky, it’s a band of people looking to pull off the perfect crime, many of them charming in a goofy kind of way but it seems like they’re doing it on the fly which on that emphasis makes them all the more endearing.
So here we have Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) who works over in construction down at Charlotte, North Carolina. His distinguishing feature is a limp from an injury he took as an ex quarterback. This injury however is considered a liability and is therefore fired from his job. What’s more, his daughter Sadie lives with his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) at Boone County, West Virginia and is on the verge of moving away with Sadie and her current hubby, making it more difficult for Jimmy to visit.
Low on both esteem and income, he concocts a plan to make with the money from underground the Charlotte Motor Speedway as from his time working underneath, he knows how the money is distributed. Not too proud to do it alone, he employs the help of his glum and handicapped brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and his confident motorhead of a sister Mellie (Riley Keogh).
Outside the family there’s Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) who’s a demolitions expert currently serving a stint in jail and the Logan brothers look to not only bust him out of jail in broad daylight, but also bring him back the same day without hardly anyone in the prison wise to their plan.
It’s a well laid plan, enough to make you raise your eyebrows and say “hmmm, that’s pretty damn clever”. Clyde even says to Jimmy, “That’s a lot of thinking for a Logan”. Clyde is the more sceptical of the two. He believes in the Logan hex, a curse that has long befallen the family that he considers the reason he lost his arm during his tour in Iraq and now wears a prosthetic. Jimmy rebuffs these claims as “backwards gossip and folk tales”. He realises there’s a lot on the line here, he’s hardly doing it for kicks. Who knows, this score may be a way of proving Clyde wrong and show people that the Logans are anything but cursed.
Soderbergh’s direction here is commendable. He’s no one trick pony either. Much of his work was either written, lensed or edited by him too. For this he directed, lensed and edited it. Written by supposedly first time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (Soderbergh likes to use pseudonyms so he doesn’t take too much credit for his work) back in 2014, it’s a pleasing, warming piece that makes its characters colourful and more inquisitive than you might expect. It somewhat makes sense that these guys were chosen for a heist movie as surprise is more often a common trait and entices the audience in a way that makes them want to follow these characters to this this master plan unfold.
The cinematography is steadied and stilled, which compliments the movie’s brisk pace and seems somewhat unconventional for a heist movie. You’d expect there to be something of a stylized, frenetic energy given the Hollywood-ised concept. But Soderbergh’s direction feels measured and has a good grip of the movie’s offbeat tone that ought to keep those who aren’t familiar with his work engaged.
The ensemble cast are universally delightful. Tatum, who seemingly has put on some poundage, gives one of his funniest and authentic performances to date that once again showcases his range into comedic fare. Driver has the stroppiness of a puppy. But coupled with his southern drawl, he’s amongst the warmest of the bunch. We get great stuff from the likes of Katherine Waterston, Katie Holmes (who looks like a footballer’s wife but gives the best work I’ve seen from her) and Sebastian Stan.
Ah but then there’s Craig, who out of everyone is clearly having a ball as the film’s most arresting and entertaining character, it’s certainly a role to be remembered in Craig’s repertoire. Hilary Swank unsettled me as the stiff, laser focused FBI agent Sarah Grayson who is amongst the very few who seem to be privy of the heist. She unsettled me in a good way though, it didn’t so much have an effect on any of the characters but she had this strong, no nonsense demeanour that made her seem almost predatory. Seth Macfarlane is by far the strangest and eccentric here as Max Chilblain, a sports drink business tycoon with a sketchy English accent that feels so imitative, he’s a cartoon. These are characters I wouldn’t mind hanging out with, except for Sarah.
But to that point, this movie isn’t to be taken seriously, it’s fun. The emotional investment is pretty low and that then dampens the potential depth of these characters which could be the movie’s one flaw. There are moments of poignancy here and there, but not enough to warrant it as a drama.
The subtext lies in Soderbergh’s willingness to further explore American culture by pinpointing the story on a fairly marginalized town that to a degree humanizes the hicksters without condescending to them. There’s a brooding confidence in Jimmy that stops us from underestimating him and his team. Some of the characters (well mostly Joe Bang’s brothers, Fish and Sam) are so oddball that you question just how viable and competent this plan is and I suppose there lies the suspense. Much of their resources are low tech and they mispronounce ‘dramatically’ as ‘dramastically’, they’re a little dim-witted and pretty calm for the most part.
Mostly though it’s a comedy caper that’ll stay fairly low key amid the more extravagant, more anticipated projects like Bladerunner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League. On its own merits it’s Soderbergh staying within his comfort zone, revisiting a genre he ventured some 15 years ago in what is probably the most American movie of the year. Full of John Denver, NASCAR and ‘God Bless America’, steeped in redneck culture. It’s fresh, funny and fast.