Steven Soderbergh, famously out of retirement, has caused a lot of hubbub because he apparently lost a lot of the interest in filmmaking that he previously saw. Read pieces from his ardent fans, and even his detractors, and you’ll find enthusiastic writing about a man who has always been enthusiastic about filmmaking. Once more unto the breach he goes with Logan Lucky, which stuck out to this writer as a retooling of what Soderbergh does incredibly well: ensembles.
Whether it be the Ocean’s films or the Magic Mikes, Soderbergh cares about the characters his camera hovers around. What’s different here, and what put me off a little bit at first, is about how much he really cares about the people who inhabit Logan Lucky. In the aforementioned hits, really cool actors carry out really elaborate heist plans while quipping at each other. Here, his empathy even dives into soap once or twice, which reads to me that the workaholic in him wants to slow down and live in the projects he takes on a bit more. At the forefront, though, this is still one of his ensemble heist pictures. And oh boy is it great to have him back.
Ne’er-do well-brothers Jimmy and Clyde Logan (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, respectively) take it upon themselves to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway when they see it as a means to an end. Jimmy just got laid off from another job and consistently bungles his relationship with his daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), not because he’s trying but because he’s a bit of a dope. Everyone in town would back up that statement. He wants to make things right for him and his kid, as most people who get involved in robberies do. With the aid of Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), the Logan brothers have the chance to usurp their peers and live better than they have been. Of course, there’ll be a few bumps down the road to fortune and freedom.
While the Logan brothers provide the emotional crux that the film relies upon, Soderbergh and writer Rebecca Blunt take upon the daunting task of filling out their little heist story with more than a few enigmatic characters. It’s no coincidence that the trailers for the film herald “Introducing Daniel Craig” in its frames. The director himself wanted to strip back Craig’s James Bond stardom a bit and let him loose. Craig may be playing against type here but he’s also the comedic centerpiece, a fast-talking redneck who balances out the grunts and gobsmacked looks of the Brothers Logan. But again, his egomania is meant to counterbalance the Logans, for reasons you’ll discover if you see the film. Bit players ranging from the talents of Katherine Waterston to Seth MacFarlane fill out the canvas here and, like the best ensemble pieces, their presences don’t detract from the film’s carnal pleasure: to make you laugh.
People make jokes about Soderbergh’s most widely-known films ending up on a constant loop on network TV stations like TNT and USA, but I think those jokes scratch at the surface of a deeper truth as to why his films often air on those stations. Ocean’s Eleven and its two sequels are easily accessible on a narrative level and have the feel of an airport novel. While they may not stick in your head for long after finishing them, you’ll most likely remember you had a good time watching them when memory needs recalling. Logan Lucky, while not incredibly different, deepens that observation a bit more.
At one point, I thought Soderbergh’s newest was getting a bit flabby. Many things sitting at two hours can feel much longer if the thrust on the story is scaled back a bit. I then realized towards the final act that while this feels much looser, all of the lingering with these characters really does matter. It could be something as simple as two characters talking about a failing alternator in one of their vehicles. No, it doesn’t really serve any purpose in the story, but it’s a pleasure to watch these people react to such a thing. Do they think it’s a big deal that needs attending to right now or can it wait? These kinds of questions seem to matter to Soderbergh, who has crafted something a lot more natural and lived-in than he’s used to.
Most of all, though, Logan Lucky is a blast to watch. While it may not be as observationally cool as the Ocean’s movies, it has its own unique conceit. Everyone in the ensemble may not have the best reason for being around, but they are, and by damn if they’re not going to have a good time.