As a filmmaker, Steven Soderbergh is incredibly difficult to pin down. Greatly experimental (Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience), indebted to classics (Full Frontal, Solaris, The Good German), daring with his approach to narrative (Schizopolis, Traffic), ambitious (Che), and mainstream (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s trilogy), Soderbergh is a man who can seemingly do just about anything and do it well. A swiss army knife of a filmmaker, Soderbergh’s latest effort, Logan Lucky, brims with the same comedic energy as his Ocean’s trilogy and his other more commercial efforts, yet feels wholly unique. Returning to the heist genre that he has found great success with in those very same Ocean’s films, Soderbergh explores the South and a vastly different way of life that often gets mocked by the coastal cities or simply forgotten. Hitting on elements that typify the Southern way of living – NASCAR, county fairs, child beauty pageants, a love of cars, country music, and hard-working blue collar Americans – Soderbergh is able to make this a film that firmly grasps its genre elements, but has an unspoken depth and honesty about the South that is too often marginalized in film. Funny, thrilling, and packed with great characters and acting, Logan Lucky marks a very welcome return to film for Soderbergh.
The titular Logan family – Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Clyde (Adam Driver), and Mellie (Riley Keough) – has long been plagued by the “Logan curse”, a belief on the part of Clyde that the family is always doomed to be broke and destitute due to a curse on the family. Thus far, this newest trio of Logan’s seems to typify this existence with Jimmy being a failed NFL hopeful due to injury and, after working in the mines of West Virginia, was just fired from his job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway for not disclosing his previous injury. Clyde joined the Army and lost part of his left arm from the elbow down. Mellie, for her part, has had nothing bad happen to her but nobody can mention it because, well, knock on wood. Now, with a scheme to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway with the help of notorious safe cracker and prison inmate Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), the Logan family hopes to finally hit on a good streak of luck.
As with the Ocean’s films, Logan Lucky‘s heist sequence and how it is written is like watching a master work. Detailed in the depiction of the heist itself, smart in its final reveal of how it all truly went down, and brilliantly setting up all of those small elements with every line of dialogue or scene in the film before the heist, the film is tight with Soderbergh refusing to waste a single moment. Finding time to develop these characters, their lives, and somehow turn those moments into elements utilized in the heist or its cover-up, Logan Lucky is one of those rare films that seems to lack clutter. Even scenes that initially appear to be excess wind up coming around later to have played an integral role in one way or another. Composed into a brilliantly played out film that is as efficient as it is effective, it is a true challenge to find fault with Soderbergh’s direction of this film.
In depicting this heist and this oddball, rag-tag group of robbers, Soderbergh manages to add great depth to the film as it doubles as an exploration of modern day rural America. Both Logan brothers typify the experience of many men in these blue-collar towns with nagging injuries, missing limbs from the Army, and experience in the coal mines that have left them hobbled. Left to rot by the government and society for these situations out of their control, both Logan brothers are viewed as nothing but losers who once had great potential that was squandered a long time ago. Having been chewed up, spit out, and disregarded, the Logan brothers embody the country mentality and experience in the modern day. Broke and down on their luck with no chance of economic advancement, the two brothers seek to work in any way possible to just make ends meet. Victims of the economic downturn and America’s trend towards renewable resources, both fight, scratch, and claw, their way to just hit bottom. No matter what they do, however, their situations only manage to get worse. Having to find work away from home – Jimmy initially works in Charlotte while living in Boone County, West Virginia, which is a four and a half hour drive – in an effort to find any job opening that meets their skill-set, these two brothers posses the American spirit and will to improve. Yet, the American dream continues to pass them by. For these forgotten souls who are hundreds of miles from opportunity, Logan Lucky stands as a testament to them and brings to light this group of Americans who love America unquestionably, yet are forgotten by those in power until the next election cycle starts.
It is perhaps for this reason that Soderbergh chooses to have a line of dialogue dedicated to how “NASCAR is like America”. Robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600, the crimes of the Logan’s and the Bang’s is equated to robbing America and is met with an intense investigation by the FBI. Yet, it is only fair. Similar to last year’s Hell or High Water, Logan Lucky depicts a group of characters who rob those who robbed them. Having given America their undying love – Jimmy even sports some tight underwear with the American flag on them – the Logan’s and many others in the South have been robbed blind for years. Given poor public funding in health, a lack of white-collar jobs, poor education, and governments that seek to just exploit them to make the politicians rich, perhaps no area of the country has been more mistreated than the South. In spite of this onslaught of tragedy, the pride for their hometown and country remains, burning bright in the soul of the majority of Southerners. However, it is time to fight back. After having everything taken from them – in the case of the film, Clyde’s hand and Jimmy’s job/health – it is time for these good ol’ boys to get back at the institution that has robbed them for so long. While this has the potential of coming as self-righteous and celebrating the actions of criminals, Soderbergh handles it with great ease due to the strong character development to that point. Thus, when it is revealed that they have become heroes to the impoverished citizens of the South and dubbed the “Redneck Robbers”, it comes as no surprise. This is, essentially, a story of a group of people robbing those who have taken everything from them, leaving them with nothing to call their own. In that way, this “holy crusade” of sorts plays out like a battle cry from all citizens of every backwater, forgotten town in the Bible belt of America.
In showcasing the way in which the economy and country has forgotten about people such as the Logan’s, Soderbergh obviously aims to have them to be sympathetic figures. Yet, as criminals, it makes them inherently hard to sympathize with. Though using the money for a good purpose, it likely will do very little for those who believe that “two wrongs do not make a right.” Knowing this, Soderbergh smartly adds another layer of critique: the greedy businessmen who led to the economic depression of the late 2000s and continue to foster an environment where another depression is always possible when the government turns a blind eye. After being robbed, the Charlotte Motor Speedway could not give the FBI a dollar amount of how much was robbed. Yet, they receive an insurance payout for the amount that was stolen. Heavily implying that the Speedway decided to jump on the opportunity to increase their own take, Logan Lucky shows not just how there are no victims, but how futile an act the Logan’s committed was in the long run. Aiming to get rich quick and seeing the Speedway as the perfect target, the brothers open themselves up to a lifelong period of scrutiny at the hands of the FBI – especially agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank) – and were never actually successful in robbing from those who robbed them in the first place. On the other end of the spectrum, even though the Speedway essentially admits to the FBI that they lied to the insurance company, Grayson continues to go after the Logan’s instead. Symbolic of how the common man is persecuted for crimes that businesses are allowed to get away with daily, Logan Lucky manages to exemplify the way in which the government only intervenes in the lives of the impoverished when the opportunity to shovel another pile of misfortune upon them presents itself.
One of the more divisive elements of Logan Lucky since its release has been in regards to its comedy. For many, the comedy seems to pass them by and leave them scratching their head. Using a far more physical, almost slapstick, style Logan Lucky is a film that relies upon visual gags and the body language of the actors for its comedy rather than any single line that truly elicit laughs. Though some of what Daniel Craig says as Joe Bang is certainly designed to elicit laughs, the film’s biggest gags – the bomb, the arm, and the prison break-out – all rely far more on visuals than on anything in the dialogue. As a result, it is not surprising to see many come away feeling cold towards the film’s comedy given the divisiveness of films that rely upon situational humor or physical actions. It is a very Coen brothers or Wes Anderson style of comedy that rides on this quirk and the interactions between characters that, as both of those directors have seen, can really divide an audience. Personally, I find that Logan Lucky really zips with great comedic energy, in large thanks to the great cast. Able to deliver the lines and nail the physical humor, cast members such as Adam Driver and Daniel Craig really nail the tone that the film is aiming for throughout. Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid are also fantastic in supporting roles as Joe Bang’s dimwitted brothers with their performances relying on their tremendous delivery and timing of their “so dumb they cannot be serious” lines.
Sporting a Southern twang and country mentality, Logan Lucky is one of the few films that truly celebrates rural America. Robbing back what was stolen from them all these years through their unlucky streak, the Logan family is one that garners great sympathy. With strong performances from Channing Tatum as the father trying to make a better world for his daughter, Adam Driver as a paranoid man trying to break a curse, Riley Keough as their attractive and far-more-stable sister, and Daniel Craig as the crazy inmate leading the way, Logan Lucky is an energetic, fast-paced, funny, and thrilling joy ride of a film from a director who is defined by his eclecticism.