Given that it’s his first feature film in the four years – a comparatively standard break for most other filmmakers – since the prolific Steven Soderbergh announced he would make no more, Logan Lucky has been accorded perhaps more import than it can reasonably shoulder. For the average moviegoer unaware of such trappings, however, the film should emerge fairly quickly for what it is – a bunch of goons having fun, with some cheap sentiment thrown in at the end.
Goon the first is Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), recently fired from a construction site for a bum knee he failed to note on his insurance forms. He’s separated from his wife (now married to a very successful man, as ex-wives in movies must be), trying to maintain a hand in raising his daughter, but keeps falling a leg or two behind. Poverty has a way of making everything else difficult. But his construction job gave him access to a major NASCAR course, a place where a lot of money changes hands, and there just so happens to be a window where the site will offer near-unfettered access to that flow.
Now, it is a heist movie, so that “near-” has its share of footnotes, a list that only grows greater as complications ensue. And they must, or else why would we be watching? But Jimmy has his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) on his side, plus some valuable input from professional criminal Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), even if that goon does insist they recruit his own goon brothers (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) to help. And so what if Joe’s already in jail at present? They have a plan for that, too.
After three Ocean’s films, few will be surprised that Soderbergh executes the pleasures of a heist film with terrific aplomb, but by that same token…after three Ocean’s films, what’s left for Soderbergh to do with a heist? The answer lies in a lot of yokel humor, which verges on mockery. Logan Lucky attempts the sort of love/mock divide that Joel and Ethan Coen often straddle, to varying effect. From my vantage, it gives too much generosity to its protagonist and too little to its more distant supporting players for this formula to quite click. It also has a way of doubling back on itself towards the end that effectively eliminates these concerns, but mainly because it’s so thoroughly confused its plotting and established characterization in the name of a ridiculous high.
Nevertheless, with a cast like this (plus Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank, and Seth MacFarlane) thrown into such a machine, it’s hard to come away not infrequently amused. Soderbergh’s handle on staging and rhythms (as always, he serves as his own cinematographer and editor) is as adept as ever, finding compelling rhythms in a single shot where most directors would cut-cut-cut. Combined with his widescreen lens, this approach lends the film a bit of grandeur, which helps mirror Jimmy’s ambitions, and the extent to which he could be a bit out of his element here. Tatum was more than a little lucky that Soderbergh saw so much in him when they started working together, and continues to get the best out of the actor, but by this point, Soderbergh knows he’s lucky to have him, too. Few other actors could keep an audience so genuinely uncertain about their character’s intelligence.