- OnScreen Chief Film Critic
Imagine for a moment that Ocean’s Eleven was a heist movie not about robbing casinos in Vegas but a racetrack in North Carolina. Instead of suave, smooth professional thieves like George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan imagine the heist being planned by two redneck brothers from West Virginia. Now imagine the second rate director behind this obvious rip-off of a popular movie. Except that last part is not true, because they’re actually from the same director, and he leans into the fact that he’s the same director. Logan Lucky is directed by Steven Soderbergh, whose most mainstream film is Ocean’s Eleven, and it is the blue collar version of Ocean’s Eleven, the “Ocean’s Seven-Eleven” as it is referenced in the movie.
After being laid off from his construction job at Charlotte Motor Speedway due to medical liability issues, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is in a tight spot. His ex-wife Bobbi Jo (Katie Holmes) is threatening to move from their town in West Virginia to Lynchburg with their daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) because her new husband is about to open a car dealership there. After a bar fight in his brother Clyde’s (Adam Driver) bar, Jimmy hatches a plan to rob the speedway on a low-key weekend when there will be minimal security, knowing the underground tube system that the speedway uses for cash. He convinces his brother, a war veteran who lost part of his arm in Iraq. Requiring the help of someone who can blow the safe, they approach Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), a childhood friend serving time in jail. With a plan to spring Joe and get him back into the facility undetected, they also employ the services of Joe’s two idiot brothers, and their own sister, Millie (Riley Keough). Jimmy has a 10 step plan on the wall of his trailer on how to pull off a perfect heist, including accounting for that something will throw a wrench into the plans, and sure enough, things do not going according to plan.
This heist comedy has a lot of movie-making DNA of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies, but the characters and the story is the inverse of an Ocean’s movie. These characters live in a small town in West Virginia. They aren’t professionals. They do not have the high tech tools of a Danny Ocean and his crew. You could say the Logan brothers are pulling off a white collar crime (in terms of the amount of money) with blue collar plans. Which makes the fact that it has the editing feel of an Ocean’s movie that much funnier. The way the film is edited, how the story is structured, the fact that it’s an ensemble cast, and how the twists of the plot are revealed are very similar to Ocean’s Eleven. That could be just because Sodebergh is the director, or it could be deliberate on his part. Either way, it works.
The casting of this film is so crucial to its success. Whatever it is about him that makes him Soderbergh’s latest muse, there is no denying that some of Channing Tatum’s best work as an actor is when he is part of the Soderbergh Players; in fact, he’s one of the featured players. Tatum perfectly embodies the role of Jimmy, a former high school jock, the star athlete who was destined for greatness until a knee injury wrecked any chance he had at professional sports. Walking with a noticeable limp, he’s a sympathetic and tragic figure. Adding Driver to the mix as his brother makes for a perfect pairing. Driver brings an understated, dryness to the character. They both play it straight, and subvert the audience expectations. Contrary to what Joe Bang says, they are not as simple-minded as people say.
The film is littered with unique, oddball characters. Riley Keough’s Millie is a no-nonsense hairdresser who has nothing but complete disdain for Bobbi Jo’s new husband. Seth McFarlane is a British businessman who sponsors one of the drivers, played by Sebastian Stan, who is himself an eccentric, high maintenance driver trying to make a comeback. Dwight Yokam pops up as the prison warden where Joe Bang is incarcerated. Katherine Waterston has a small part as a former classmate of Jimmy’s. Even Hilary Swank and Macon Blair show up as two FBI agents late in the film. However, Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang, though, is the highlight performance. Hearing the West Virginian accent and the way Craig delivers his dialogue is a treat in and of itself, but there is much more to it. It’s a highly entertaining performance from him and the only overtly comedic one I can think of, but he’s definitely got the chops for it.
Overall, I enjoyed the comedy, part of which is derived from these oddball characters having aspects and characteristics that are unexpected and lead to some extended sequences of humor. An elaborate prison riot is mocked up by the inmates to help facilitate Joe Bang’s disappearance. A standoff with the warden includes a hilarious, and timely, digression about Game of Thrones and how the show has gone past the books. Later on, during the heist, Joe Bang takes time to give an extended chemistry lesson to the Logan brothers. Some of the comedy is Coen-esque.
Soderbergh is director who has a few different filmmaking modes that he operates in, most of his films fall into three or four categories: indie/experimental (Bubble, Full Frontal, Schizopolis, The Girlfriend Experience), slick/stylized crowd pleasers (Ocean’s Eleven, Haywire, Out of Sight, Magic Mike), and mainstream drama/thrillers (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Contagion, Side Effects). Logan Lucky falls closer to the slick/stylized crowd pleasers than the others. It’s very clear that the people making this film had fun doing so. It’s also not a film that pretends to be more than what it is. It aims to provide a fun movie experience and accomplishes its modest goal. It’s absolutely a crowd pleaser and one of the more purely enjoyable films of the summer.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars