Synopsis – Two brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina.
My Take – I have special kind of admiration for filmmaker Steven Soderbergh as his 2001 film, Ocean’s Eleven, a remake of the 1960 heist caper, was the first the adult oriented film I saw on the big screen. With films like Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Magic Mike, Contagion & the Ocean’s Trilogy under his belt, I am quite sure many others share the same esteem regard for his work. A few years ago, director Steven Soderbergh made no secret of his waning passion for filmmaking. He announced his intention to retire from feature films following the release of 2013’s Behind the Candelabra and cited his desire to pursue other creative interests. Well, it may have taken four years (and a brief stint directing TV’s The Knick) to reignite his filmmaking passion, as here he proves yet again with this rollicking heist caper that he deserves to stay in business. It doesn’t come as a surprise to see how his return to film has somehow gone on to become one of the most acclaimed comedies of the year in terms of critical reception and has been steadily growing an ever-building fanbase as more and more people discover it. When a line in the film describes it as “Ocean’s 7-11”, we can assume this is Soderbergh admitting that his Ocean’s trilogy was the inspiration for this comedy-satire heist film focusing on a well-planned crime by a team of siblings, rednecks and convicts, but aside from both having the same director, the two couldn’t be more miles apart, mainly as the southern twist provides a certain freshness, a factor generally missing from common crime capers.
The story follows Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), who comes from a family known for their history of bad-luck. All Jimmy wants is to take care of his lovely young daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), who is preparing for a Little Miss West Virginia pageant & while trying to figure out a custody battle with his ex-wife Bobbie (Katie Holmes), who left him for the wealthy business man, Moody Chapman (David Denman). Due to his recent layoff as a construction worker due to his limp being a future liability for the company he works for & desperation for money, Jimmy recruits his siblings, hairdresser Mellie (Riley Keough) and one-handed bartender Clyde (Adam Driver) to pull of an elaborate heist at the Charlotte Motor Speedway vault, where he was working filling sinkholes before he was let go. To put their financial woes behind and break the family curse & intricate knowledge of a series of underground tubes that run from the Speedway to a central bank vault filled with millions of dollars, Jimmy sees the perfect opening to rob the vault during a NARSCAR race. They also enlist the services of an explosive expert convict Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his two brothers, Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish Bang (Jack Quaid). The only problem is that Joe’s in prison. So, on top of concocting a plan to steal the cash, they’ll need to figure out a way to break Joe out of prison and get him back before anyone notices as he has only five months left on his sentence. Perhaps the biggest surprise treat of the summer 2017 film season, this film seemingly came out of nowhere despite having a top- notch cast and cinematic mastermind Steven Soderbergh at the helm. The film doesn’t come with the standard beats and rhythms of your average Italian Job (2003). It’s slower, quirkier, meanders down narrative avenues then calls it all back in drastically different ways. While doing so it’s also more human, more sympathetic calling to the usual ‘let’s rob the rich to get rich’ kind of films. The caper is clever, yet simple. Soderbergh (or, rather, writer Rebecca Blunt – which is believed to be a pseudonym for someone else) does a clever job of having Tatum’s character keep a list of 10 things to think about during a robbery and the script follows these rules, which makes things easy to follow. For the most part, the film moves along at a nice pace. Just like in the Ocean’s films, Soderbergh (who edits his own film) employs slick, fast cut editing to keep the heist scenes interesting and involving. It’s was quite obvious from the trailers that the film is a zany comedy about unremarkable characters punching well above their weight but through sheer luck managing to pull things off. Half the fun of the film is seeing things not happening to plan but somehow working out in the end. To its credit, the film never treats itself too seriously and invites you to laugh along with the character’s mishaps and the farcical parts of the story are frequently the funniest. One gag involving a prison riot and a jab at Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin‘s glacial writing pace is as screwy as it is funny. What worked about the film is it has plenty of dumb witted yet fun filled humor. It may not have jokes being thrown out in every scene. But more of oddball characters making idiot decisions or more inside joke humor. There are many moments where I found myself laughing out loud by the complete absurdity of what was going on, but a chunk of the third act does tend to get a bit loose before everything comes together for a strong finish. The odd thing about it, though, is that I don’t feel like they could have trimmed that third act up to make it any more enjoyable. The story’s good, intriguing and, at least on the surface, nice and simple. Yet director Soderbergh and mysterious first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt keep it interesting and layered by giving us lots of enjoyable detail that make the plan seem all the more intricate and fun to watch. While it could be fun to have seen this play out like the Mission: Impossible films, where you hear the plan step-by-step and then watch everything go according to plan, what Soderbergh achieves is much more effective. If you have seen any of the Ocean’s films you may get a feel for how the film is.
Where every scene that plays out with characters doing a specific action in order to put this heist in motion. Then in the end, everything is tied together with a twist. Director Soderbergh does well with his storytelling in making heists films which is what he is strong at in filmmaking. Since we don’t know exactly what the next stage of the plan is, not only does this raise tension levels, but more than this it seems ingenious and even more impressive when you see it unfold organically, managing to surprise you and keep you invested in the story more than you would be otherwise. Although it may test credulity in how conveniently well the plan goes, it’s a joy to watch. Large problems seem to wash over the ensemble with increasing grace almost as if they know they can rely on their community; family and own God-given intelligence to carry the day. Minor problems come across as inspired character moments for which Jimmy, Joe Bang and his brothers show their goofy, simple, superstitious selves. The film does an excellent job humanizing our heroes by exploring and framing their environments as a point of fact. Jimmy doesn’t live in squalor; he lives in a cozy house overlooking the West Virginia hills. Clyde isn’t a one-handed freak, he’s a war hero and a dedicated bartender to boot, Mellie, a capable getaway driver, the Bang brothers – professional bandits who “know all the twitters”. The camera further highlights this by panning and gliding at low angles making everyone loom larger; everyone including a late third act addition in Hilary Swank as a resourceful FBI investigator. Director Soderbergh‘s eye for keen visuals and slick composition is on full display, and the film is quite the aesthetic treat, making good use of its Southern setting and the NASCAR related imagery, which helps build both mood and tension. In many ways, you could say that this film is the “redneck” variation of his earlier Ocean’s trilogy- and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. It’s quirky and character driven with fantastic direction and beautifully crafted imagery. Director Soderbergh also wisely lets scenes play out at an organic pacing, so the razor-sharp writing is on full-display, and the constant and very effective subtle humor is allowed to sink in. It’s infectiously charming and even if you don’t laugh out loud at every scene, you’ll definitely find yourself grinning ear to ear and giggling madly throughout. However, the film is not without its faults. A subplot involving a returning NASCAR driver Dayton White (Sebastian Stan) and his overzealous & rude team owner Max Chilblain (Seth McFarlane), comes out of nowhere and heads nowhere. Katherine Waterston (Alien: Covenant) is wasted in a brief role as a love interest for Tatum‘s Jimmy. Plus, Hilary Swank‘s tenacious FBI detective Special Agent Sarah Grayson, who appears in the last twenty minutes of the film seemed pointless. But, of course, in these types of films, it is the characters that make (or break) things and Soderbergh has assembled a a crew that is very enjoyable to watch starting with Channing Tatum is excellent as the flawed yet doting and determined dad with real conviction and has a really endearing energy with his on-screen daughter. He has transformed into a decent leading man. He’s funny in the right places, dramatic in the others, he’s consistent with his accent and he’s does a solid job. Indie favorite Adam Driver is also good as his brother Clyde but his accent was touch too slow. Solid supporting turns are given by an ensemble that includes Katie Holmes, Riley Keough, and Dwight Yoakam. As mentioned above, Kevin Sebastian, Hilary Swank, Seth MacFarlane, and Katherine Waterston are wasted in small roles. Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson provide the wonderful humor. I think the best of the bunch is Daniel Craig in the most bizarre role you will ever see him in. He’s a cooky, quotable, yet very smart criminal who knows exactly what he is doing. He turns in a delightful comic performance just this side of caricature. On the whole, ‘Logan Lucky’ is a very entertaining heist adventure, with sharp visuals, great characters and a quirky and off-kilter sense of humor, this one is easily one of my favorite films of the year.
Directed – Steven Soderbergh
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 118 minutes