When Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from feature filmmaking four years ago, most of the industry took it with a grain of salt. The prolific filmmaker’s “retirement” included directing a play, directing and producing two seasons of the excellent TV series The Knick, and filling the roles of producer and cinematographer on Magic Mike XXL. It came as no surprise when we found out he’d be emerging from this self-imposed exile and returning to the director’s chair for Logan Lucky. While somewhat predictable in his locomotive-like work habits – you can always count on Soderbergh to keep making things – he’ll always keep us guessing as to what exactly he’ll do next. With him, you can always expect the unexpected. So while it may sound like an odd choice, it really shouldn’t be that surprising that his new film is a hillbilly heist comedy with an eclectic cast that includes Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keogh, Katie Holmes, and Seth McFarlane.
I can’t sell the film any better than the promising trailer. It may give away some of the film’s best moments, but there are plenty left to enjoy. Logan Lucky is a rollicking good time with fun characters, loads of laughs, and an engaging story all directed with the confidence of a master. While it’s easy to heap praise upon Soderbergh and the cast, the film’s early buzz also has a lot of people asking about mysterious first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt. Blunt has no previous credits and hasn’t been available for press rounds, leading many to speculate it may be a pseudonym for Soderbergh or someone else. Regardless, Blunt or whoever, has written a great script very much influenced by the Coen brothers and several other films that nail the heist genre, including Soderbergh’s own.
It’s easy to identify similarities between Logan Lucky and Ocean’s 11 (and impossible to miss one well-timed direct reference to it). While Danny Ocean’s crew was mostly made up of suave players who looked like they just walked out of ads for high end suits and watches, Logan Lucky basks in the down-home working class of its southern setting. Taking a page out of the Coen brothers’ book (particularly Fargo), the accents and colloquialisms initially mask how smart these unassuming characters really are, which is where much of the film’s humour and subversion is derived. The second half plays out much like an Ocean’s film, as we’re not privy to the specifics of the plan beforehand, and it’s entertaining to see it unfold in brilliant detail with several twists at the end. There are even a few moments where Soderbergh can’t help but add a dash of Out of Sight coolness to this redneck yarn.
Channing Tatum continues to demonstrate why many of today’s best directors seem to be crushing hard on the hearthrob dancer-turned-actor. As Jimmy Logan, an out-of-work construction worker struggling to keep up with child support payments, we have a sympathetic lead who also manages to be funny and physically imposing. Adam Driver plays his brother, a 1.5 armed war veteran who tends bar at the Duck Tape tavern. Driver plays his character a little simpler than Tatum, but we soon learn there’s a lot more to the Logans than meets the eye. Riley Keogh plays their sister Millie, the only family member immune from the alleged “Logan Curse” (Keogh’s super cool, and the movie definitely could have used more Millie). The Logans must enlist the help of explosives expert Joe Bang, played with gleeful abandon by Daniel Craig. It’s truly a bit of inspired casting and probably Craig’s best performance to date. He’d be in danger of stealing every scene he’s in if everyone else wasn’t bringing their A-game too.
Perhaps the only misstep in the film was casting Seth McFarlane as an obnoxious British energy drink guru. If you’re expecting to see a different side of him, hoping Soderbergh perhaps uses him against type, the way he cast several comedians in straight roles in The Informant, you’ll be disappointed. Instead he feels as two dimensional as a Family Guy character, taking you out of the film almost every time he’s on screen. Fortunately it’s a relatively small role that ends up being rather inconsequential. Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, and Hilary Swank all appear in supporting roles so that Keogh isn’t balancing out all that testosterone on her own.
Apparently Soderbergh’s experiences making and releasing Che soured him on making “important” or “prestigious” films, which is sad, since he probably had some great ones left in him, but the pure entertainment value of Logan Lucky certainly softens the blow. The wide appeal of this cast and genre, along with succeeding in making something both hilarious and heartfelt, could easily end up making Logan Lucky Soderbergh’s biggest commercial hit to date. It’s up there with Baby Driver as the most fun you’ll have at the movies this summer. Don’t be surprised if it has studios begging Soderbergh for a sequel… and don’t be surprised if he does it.