Nobody makes movies like Steven Soderbergh makes movies.
Take almost any other film coming out of Hollywood and it won’t have half of the crispness, entertainment, or satisfaction of a Soderbergh picture. Fortunately, his latest, Logan Lucky, continues his streak of what are essentially master classes in economic storytelling entertainment.
Logan Lucky returns Soderbergh to the caper genre he perfected in his Ocean’s trilogy, but this time his focus is a little different. Rather than the ultra-slick high-tech criminals of that world, this story centers around a couple of West Virginians with a streak of bad family luck and a name derided all around town for the mishaps that befall them.
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum, continuing his trend of being one of Hollywood’s most able and effortlessly charming leading men) is a divorced father who wants, more than anything in the world, to be able to provide for his little girl. When his latest job doesn’t pan out due to a limp he picked up blowing his knee out playing football as a teen (ruining his chances of a professional career…that “Logan Luck” at play), he settles into deciding the only way to pull himself out of the rut he’s in is to plan a heist. To do it, he knows he’ll need to bring in his brother, disabled veteran/bartender Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) and car-expert/hair stylist sister Mellie Logan (Soderbergh favorite Riley Keough).
But that’s not quite enough. He’ll also need the assistance of the notorious and capable Joe Bang, played by none other than Daniel Craig in a hysterical and mesmerizing performance. It’s been far too long since we’ve gotten to see Craig stretch his muscles beyond those needed for James Bond, and every moment of his screen time is an event. There’s a memorable sequence where a frustrated Bang stops the heist cold so that he can explain the science behind what he’s doing to the two incredulous Logan brothers, complete with Bang producing a handful of chalk to write chemical equations on the wall (“Did you expect me to just use a stick of dynamite?!” “Uh…well, kind of, yes.”).
With the addition of Joe’s two hick brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson), the team is all set for their caper: breaking into the vault at the Coca-Cola 500 NASCAR race and making off with all the money coming in that day. Through an elaborate plan constructed by Jimmy, the team intends to take off with as much cash as they can. These aren’t the super-thieves of the Ocean’s movies, though. They don’t have EMPs and holograms, they have trash bags and gummi bear bombs (excuse me, “ex-plo-sive de-vices”).
To go into more detail would spoil the fun of experiencing how Soderbergh expertly sets up each moment of planning and execution, but what follows is a titillating (and often hilarious) journey through one of the Rube Goldberg machines that the director so easily brings to life on film. Along the way there’s time for unrecognizable performances by the likes of Seth MacFarlane, Game of Thrones jokes, and heaping portions of purely Southern moments. Soderbergh is never interested in wasting time on diatribes going into the minutia of the plan or exposition behind everything, instead he chugs along, only pausing for welcome moments of pathos. Those moments are most often between Jimmy and his daughter, Sadie, played by a delightful and precocious Farrah Mackenzie.
One of Soderbergh’s great strengths is the ability to make us like and care about his characters, no matter how dastardly they may be. We might not even be able to explain why we like them so much, but we sure as hell root for them. Soderbergh understands that moments spent laughing with or at the characters, exploring their relationships and banter, is more engaging than explaining where the team got every bit of their costumes or equipment for the heist. In an age where the internet and much of fandom is obsessed with squeezing out every detail in their media, Soderbergh has reemerged to gently tap us on the shoulder and remind us that it’s perfectly okay to just have a good time at the movies and not worry about all that other stuff.
Logan Lucky is the type of movie that a lot of people complain doesn’t seem to exist anymore. When it comes to entertaining, cathartic cinema that hits all the right buttons, this Logan ends up having plenty of Luck.