‘Logan Lucky’ Review: Steven Soderbergh Is Back With an Anti-‘Ocean’s’ Heist Comedy
Don’t trust acclaimed artists when they announce their retirement. Four years ago Steven Soderbergh “retired” from movies, just like Jay Z “retired” from music. Since 2013’s Side Effects, the filmmaker’s kept busy producing and directing projects on the small screen, and working as his alter ego, cinematographer Peter Andrews. But Soderbergh’s return to big-screen directing was only a matter of time; the guy is just too good to quit forever. He’s back with Logan Lucky, a heist comedy that reaffirms why Soderbergh belongs behind the movie camera.
The Logan family is known throughout their North Carolina hometown thanks to a decades-long spate of bad luck. When Channing Tatum’s limping Jimmy Logan gets fired from his coal mining job, it only fuels his brother Clyde’s (Adam Driver) conspiracy theory that the Logans are cursed. Ever the optimist, Jimmy looks at his layoff as a chance to do something bigger. He decides to do the one thing two unlucky guys could never successfully pull off: Rob a bank.
As the biggest NASCAR race of the year approaches, Jimmy discovers his old mine leads directly to an underground “cash highway” of money tubes that connect the Charlotte Motor Speedway to a bank vault. All they need to do is find an expert to help out, break him out of jail for a few hours, sneak explosives past security, steal the cash, transport it, then get the inmate back in prison unnoticed. Easy!
I would’ve called Logan Lucky the “anti-glam” version of an Ocean’s film if Soderbergh hadn’t beat me to it. Whereas the Ocean’s movies are sexy, suave, and sophisticated, Logan Lucky is homespun and grungy. It’s your favorite old pair of jeans compared to a designer suit; it ain’t classy, but it gets the job done. As stylish and fun as Soderbergh’s heist movies are, the Ocean’s films always stunk of pretension – good-looking movie stars playing fancy people who pull off cons with arrogance and ease. What makes Logan Lucky so distinct is how its characters are closer to real people. Two nitwits taking on the Coca-Cola 600? That’s bound to be interesting.
The Logans certainly look like a clan of fools. After all, Jimmy plots the heist with a refrigerator list titled “10 Ways To Rob a Bank,” which has “s--- happens” listed twice. (“What happens after the second ‘s--- happens’?” Mellie Logan (Riley Keough) asks.) The Logans may look like the antithesis of Danny Ocean, but they, like the film itself, are much more clever than they seem. They ingeniously use the tools around them to pull off their hillbilly heist, like cockroaches, gummy bears, and toilet paper rolls. These are the last people you’d imagine robbing a bank, and that’s what makes Logan Lucky so gleeful and surprising. It also ends with a great and unexpected twist, one that isn’t there to shock or dupe the audience, but to humanize its characters, and emphasize what makes them so relatable.
First-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt brings impressive richness and specificity to each of her characters, embedding their quirks into the framework of the heist plot. Jimmy might be plotting a crime, but he’s also a father, and Tatum brings a sweetness to his moments with his young daughter (Farrah Mackenzie). Driver is excellent as Clyde, a one-armed bartender who refuses to be pitied, swiftly pulling off his prosthetic to scare the obnoxious celebrity (Seth MacFarlane) who insults him.
Keough is perfectly cast as Mellie, Katie Holmes plays Jimmy’s wine-guzzling ex-wife, Hilary Swank is great in a cameo as a determined FBI agent, and Katherine Waterston shows up for a pair of too-brief scenes as an old high school flame. But the standout is a bleached-blonde Daniel Craig as Joe Bang, a tattooed criminal with the eyes of a madman and a container of salt tucked into his sock. Logan Lucky might have the most stellar cast of characters of any film this summer.
I’ll admit though, I wasn’t fully enamored by the film for the first hour, which mainly lays the groundwork for what’s to come. Eventually that pays off in a series of aha moments when things finally click into place. Once race day arrives, Lucky Logan kicks into high gear, and Soderbergh is back in his element. The pacing quickens, the editing tightens, and the humor gets sharper – there’s a fantastic Game of Thrones joke that will crack you up even if you don’t watch Game of Thrones.
Soderbergh did some impressive work during his break from the movies, but Logan Lucky proves his talents need to be showcased on the big screen, melding crime and suspense with comedy. It’s a welcomed return for the director, and a great addition to an already strong summer movie season. I only hope Soderbergh doesn’t crawl back in his retirement hole any time soon.