Welcome back, Steven Soderbergh! Oh how we’ve missed you so! Not to sound overly dramatic, but the four years he’s been on a cinema sabbatical of sorts have felt like an entire era of not being allowed to have nice things. He gave us his all and we took it for granted. In the time since, the rise of exposition, convoluted narratives, and thinly drawn character arcs have overtaken the marketplace – specifically in the heist genre. Not anymore! The auteur who was smart enough to rethink the classic heist movie has returned with a turbocharged gasser, LOGAN LUCKY, that once again puts him in the pole position.
Billed as an OCEANS 7-11, LOGAN LUCKY premise is pretty straight forward. The Logan brothers have typically been unlucky in everything in life. Jimmy (Channing Tatum) was once the star quarterback with a bright future ahead of him until he was sidelined due to a knee injury – one that’s gotten him fired from his current job working in a mine. It affected everyone in his life, from ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes), to their young, cute-as-a-button daughter (Farrah Mackenzie). His brother Clyde (Adam Driver) lost an arm fighting overseas and has been relegated to slinging drinks in a West Virginia dive bar. Desperate for money, Jimmy hatches an elaborate plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600. Hijinks and hilarity ensue when they bring in more players: their hairdresser, gearhead sister Mellie (Riley Keough), incarcerated demolition expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), and his two dimwitted “born again” brothers Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson). Their plan isn’t exactly easily executable – and that’s half the fun of watching the shenanigans transpire.
As I said before, what’s most appreciated here is that there’s no exposition when it comes to the heist. The “show, don’t tell” rule is the oil in this narrative’s engine. The story moves briskly and is deeply engaging. Nods to the daily challenges faced by hard-working blue-collared folk, war veterans, and anyone who’s had their dreams deferred are subtle but impacting. The picture stays grounded in the economic realities of real people whilst embracing colorful, over-the-top character antics. It’s an exact blend only creatives like Soderbergh and screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (a speculated pseudonym for Soderbergh’s wife Jules Asner, or possibly John Henson) could modulate perfectly and pull off.
Together, they’ve constructed a marvelous sandbox in which their ensemble plays, allowing each cast member ample chances to show off their strengths: Tatum works best when he’s not primarily a romantic lead. Driver finds layers in roles with little dialogue and lots of subtlety. Keough gives Marisa Tomei in MY COUSIN VINNY a run for her money through her garish wardrobe, knowledge of cars, and playful puncturing of machismo. Perhaps Craig wows us the most, as his Coen Brothers-esque character is a performance we’ve never seen before. It’s refreshing to see him shed James Bond’s smoldering and preening – and the serious dramatics of every other character he’s played – to take on a role with such giddy abandon. While we could maybe do without the side subplot involving arrogant race-team owner Max (Seth MacFarlane) and health-nut race car driver (Sebastian Stan), it’s still fun to see those types lampooned with zany panache.
The soundtrack, stacked with dive-bar deep cuts from Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, The Monks and Dr. John, augments the atmosphere – a genuine highlight given needle-drops in major films of late aren’t given as much dimension (with exception of BABY DRIVER, ATOMIC BLONDE and the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series). Even utilizing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” there’s a “steeped in” authenticity to it that’s wildly audibly attractive. Selfishly, I eagerly wait for a vinyl release.
Despite a lull in energy in the third act, and being a little long in the tooth when it comes to the characters’ post-heist/ altered world, Soderbergh and his pit crew have finely crafted a supercharged film that fires on all cylinders.
LOGAN LUCKY opens on August 18.