Director Steven Soderbergh first burst onto the scene in 1989 with film festival darling Sex, Lies, and Videotape. By the early 2000s, he had gone mainstream with critical and commercial hits like Erin Brockovich, Traffic and the Ocean’s films. Over the next decade, he developed an eclectic resume making pretty much whatever type of film he wanted. In 2013 (during the promotion of his psychological thriller Side Effects), he announced he was taking a sabbatical from film. Here we are four years later and Soderbergh has made his return to the director’s chair with the delightful heist comedy Logan Lucky, which he also edited and did the cinematography for (he also was able to produce the film without any studio involvement whatsoever).
Logan Lucky (114 minutes minus the end credits) is about a guy named Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum, who previously teamed with Soderbergh on the action movie Haywire, the stripper comedy Magic Mike and Side Effects) who, at the film’s start is fired from his mining job for a preexisting knee injury. Desperate for cash, he enlists the help of his one-handed, war veteran brother (Adam Driver (the villainous Kylo Ren from the new Star Wars films)) and together they begin preparations to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The title refers to a curse that Clyde thinks haunts the entire Logan family.
The film mostly takes place in West Virginia and, unlike last week’s biopic The Glass Castle, it has great love for the area and its people. It also has respect for its characters. With the exception of an obnoxious braggart played by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, none of the characters are mocked or looked down upon. While I laughed a lot, I never felt as though the film was being condescending.
I don’t want to give away any more of the story than is absolutely necessary because the plot complications created in the clever screenplay (written by an anonymous screenwriter going by the pseudonym Rebecca Blunt) are part of the movie’s charm. All I will say is that the Logan’s heist plan is surprisingly ingenious. This is not one of those comedies where the jokes are prioritized over the characterizations or story. The humor comes from the characters which makes what happens during the heist that much funnier.
Another part of the movie’s charm is contained in the performances. Over the last five years, Channing Tatum has become one of the more consistently likable movie stars working in both comedy and action. He does a good job here balancing tones. He is not playing a “funny character.” He makes Jimmy Logan funny by making him real. Tatum brings some recognizable emotion and relatable motivation to the role. In addition to him, Daniel Craig (yep, James Bond) seems to be having an absolute blast (no pun intended) as explosives expert Joe Bang. He elicits a smile every time he shows up onscreen. Adam Driver and Riley Keough as Jimmy’s siblings Clyde and Mellie are also quite enjoyable to watch. The characters they play (especially Keough’s) could have become caricatures in the wrong hands, but they bring a humanity to them that keeps the comedy grounded.
The key to a film like this is that audiences have to be able to like the characters even while they are attempting to pull off a crime. Tatum, Driver, Craig and Keough along with Soderbergh and a smart screenplay make it very easy to cheer this group on. Even after four years away from the big screen, Steven Soderbergh proves that he still has the skills to make a potentially complex story easy to watch. Logan Lucky is funny, likable, clever and, most importantly, really fun.
4 out of 5
Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan
Adam Driver as Clyde Logan
Daniel Craig as Joe Bang
Riley Keough as Mellie Logan
Farrah Mackenzie as Sadie Logan
Katie Holmes as Bobbie Jo Chapman
Jack Quaid as Fish Bang
Brian Gleeson as Sam Bang
Seth MacFarlane as Max Chillblain
David Denman as Moody Chapman
Katherine Waterston as Sylvia Harrison
Dwight Yoakam as Warden Burns
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Rebecca Blunt