It turns out that filmmaker Steven Soderbergh’s decision to retire from movies was as final as Jay-Z’s much-publicized retirement from rapping. It’s been four years since Side Effects graced cinema screens, but Soderbergh managed to direct an HBO movie about Liberace and twenty episodes of The Knick during his “time off.”
Now, Soderbergh is officially back, and — surprise! — it’s like he never left. His breezy new heist film Logan Lucky is essentially a red state-set sequel to 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven — and better than the two actual sequels that Soderbergh directed. In fact, one of the few complaints that could be lodged against Logan Lucky is that it so deftly replicates the first Ocean’s film’s ability to keep the audience entertained, while mostly keeping them in the dark, that viewers might find themselves spending more time trying to get ahead of Logan‘s plot than just spend time with its characters.
Channing Tatum, who is gradually becoming the DiCaprio to Soderbergh’s Scorsese, stars as Jimmy Logan. Jimmy was a college football star undone by a knee injury. Rather than living a life of fortune and fame, he now works as a miner, trying to rub a few dollars together and see his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie) as often as his ex-wife (Katie Holmes) will let him. Jimmy’s life is upended when he is fired for failing to tell his bosses about his knee — and then learns that his ex is moving out-of-state.
A curse upon the family
This is unsurprising to Jimmy’s brother, Clyde (Adam Driver, his dry cadence working oddly well with a theatrically thick Southern accent), who theorizes that the whole Logan family is cursed. Clyde fell victim to the curse when he was prepping to ship home from his second tour of duty in Iraq and got his left hand blown off in an explosion. Now, he tends a sleepy little bar, where the big excitement comes whenever Jimmy feels the need to defend his injured brother’s honor — or vice versa. Former Academy Awards host Seth MacFarlane, playing into the public’s mixed-to-negative attitude toward him as a person, appears as an asshole Brit NASCAR driver who gets a double-comeuppance from the brothers after he makes fun of them.
Looking for the capital to move himself closer to his daughter, and maybe just reverse the curse so he can taste a little bit of that good life he missed out on, Jimmy lets Clyde in on a plot he has been hatching, to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Clyde and Jimmy end up enlisting the help of their speed demon younger sister Mellie (Riley Keough, of the Girlfriend Experience TV show), as well as an incarcerated acquaintance whose given name is Joe Bang (played by Craig, Daniel Craig). Through a twist of fate (or cheeky screenwriting), Joe Bang happens to be an explosives expert.
I think that’s about as much plot as I’ll get into, because there’s not much more that can be recounted without spoiling the fun. In fact, Logan Lucky is the kind of film that improves with repeated viewings, because you can set aside the Rube Goldberg mechanics of the plot and just enjoy the performances. Soderbergh’s attention to the details of the heist is as fastidious as ever, but the care with which he has assembled his cast is again his greatest achievement.
Lucky Logan‘s supporting actors
Daniel Craig is getting a lot of attention for the fun and nearly frivolous nature of his Joe Bang performance, but more striking is the way that this unexpected performance folds naturally into the film as a whole. Nearly every speaking part gets a moment to the command the screen without ever making the film feel show-y or unbalanced.
Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson play Joe Bang’s brothers, who join in on the heist and provide a familiar squabbling-sibling element provided previously in the Ocean’s films by Scott Caan and Casey Affleck. Katherine Waterston gets to play a few nice grace notes as a former high school admirer of Jimmy’s who resurfaces more self-possessed and — though it should go without saying — more appealing to Jimmy. And it’s always nice to see Dwight Yoakam in an acting role, this time as the vainglorious and cowardly warden of Joe Bang’s prison.
The film backloads some of its emotional development until after the big heist, similar to the way the final pieces of Jimmy’s plan are only gradually revealed in dribs and drabs throughout the final twenty minutes. It’s a risky move, but one that arguably pays off. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes, and Logan Lucky suggests there’s more than one way to work a resonant human story into a fun heist flick.
Logan Lucky‘s script is credited to Rebecca Blunt, but the internet is already abuzz with the gossip that no such person exists. Considering that Soderbergh has utilized pseudonyms going all the way back to 1995’s The Underneath, when he replaced his name in the script credits with that of the main character from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, it’s not a major stretch of the imagination. (Soderbergh’s long-used cinematography and editing aliases, Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard, are in play again here.) Most theories have it that Soderbergh’s wife Jules Asner, and/or their buddy John Henson, are behind the screenplay, but considering Soderbergh’s oft-publicized love of Girls, I want to be the first one to suggest the film is written by Lena Dunham. Prove me wrong.
Whoever did write it should be awful pleased with how her (their?) script turned out. Time will tell if Logan Lucky can be elevated to pop-classic status, as Ocean’s Eleven arguably can, but, in the meanwhile, it makes for a heckuva fun way to close out the summer movie season.
Logan Lucky opens in theaters Friday, August 18.
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Justin Remer makes movies, directs music videos, and plays in the bands Duck the Piano Wire and Elastic No-No Band when he is not writing movie reviews. His folk-rock documentary MAKING LOVERS & DOLLARS is currently streaming on Amazon.