Steven Soderbergh is well known for his slick directing style and his accomplishment in the indie film industry and heist genre. Taking a page from his most successful films, the “Ocean’s” trilogy, Soderbergh returns to the big screen as a director for the first time since 2013 with yet another soon-to-be classic heist story, “Logan Lucky”. While Soderbergh fails to really imprint his trademark originality on “Logan Lucky”, the film is still and entertaining ride that, like the director’s previous works, keeps you guessing right until the final shot.
“Logan Lucky” stars Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as Jimmy and Clyde Logan, a pair of brothers who have fallen on hard times, one due to a lingering leg injury and the other having lost his arm as a soldier after living in his brother’s shadow. The two concoct a plan to rob Charlotte Motor Speedway, eventually deciding on the day of the Coca Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest race, to pull off the job while construction work underneath the speedway is taking place. The brothers enlist the help of infamous vault master Joe Bang, played by Daniel Craig, and his two brothers as well as the Logan sister Mellie, played by Riley Keough, to pull off the job. The film also includes cameos by numerous NASCAR drivers along the way.
First off, let me put it bluntly. “Logan Lucky” is a smooth, entertaining, and smart heist flick that hits all the right notes all the way through, at least from as far as the story is concerned. Even if you’re not a NASCAR fan, this film has enough to keep you enthralled right from the beginning as the narrative establishes who the characters are and their motives for the heist we will see play out as well as the Logan’s connection to their eventual target, Charlotte Motor Speedway. Like Soderbergh’s previous films, the audience, and many of the characters, only know what the filmmakers want us to know making the heist a heart racing event that, while simple in design, has many complex levels of planning that take place behind the scenes, only to be revealed later on.
If this sounds familiar that’s because it’s the same formula that worked so well in the “Ocean’s” trilogy, with only bits and pieces of the plan being presented over time until the final moments of the movie hit us like a ton of bricks with a satisfying “Ah Ha!” moment that brings everything together. This is where I felt “Logan Lucky” as a whole fell short a bit in terms of plot for me. It’s essentially a redneck ratpack performing the same kind of heist that Danny Ocean and his crew would have attempted. Now while one could argue the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach, Soderbergh is a smart and talented director capable of some great things on screen. For him to lean so heavily on a formula that worked so well already just seems out of character for him, especially since this, at least for now, is not directly connected to the “Ocean’s” films. It might seem nitpicky, but, hey that’s why I’m here. The formula works to tremendous effect throughout the film to be sure, but whatever originality its setting and plot presented is cancelled out by Soderbergh essentially trying to recapture the same magic of his most popular works for a different audience. Granted he succeeds in that goal, but still there is a question of creativity to consider.
In terms of the performances in this film there’s a lot to love, especially if you’ve ever been to the south. I’ll be honest, I went in thinking this film would be an insult to southern life and NASCAR fans, of which I am one, but it actually tastefully depicts real habits, personalities, and lifestyles of the south and, while it makes a horribly inaccurate comment about the Coca Cola 600 being the biggest race of the year (cough, the Daytona 500, cough, cough) the remainder of the film proves to be an accurate and amusing interpretation of southern lifestyle without necessarily being a direct parody of it.
Channing Tatum and Adam Driver lead the cast as the Logan brothers with Tatum’s Jimmy being the centerpiece of the entire film as he tries to find a way to remain connected with his daughter while suffering from a previous injury sidelining his work life. Driver is a more downhearted individual and a lot more shy, with a softer personality. Together they create the perfect pair who hold the film on their shoulders and take the weight with all they have. Daniel Craig is particularly impressive as Joe Bang, trading in his British accent for a southern twang and adding many laughs to the film while not overshadowing his fellow stars. Overall its truly an ensemble cast, at least when it comes to the main characters, with everyone pulling their weight, bringing life and personality to their characters, and immersing themselves into the culture of the region where this story plays out.
Still not every performance seems even necessary in this film. Sebastian Stan and Seth MacFarlane provide a pair of performances that seem, in all honesty, a bit out of place. While MacFarlane’s character, a snobby British businessman named Max, helps drive the plot by creating an early bar fight, he simply serves as the source of forced conflict later in the film when he recognizes one of the Logans and becomes a witness to the heist. Stan plays the token fictional NASCAR driver Dayton White who, in all honesty, is nothing but a subtle parody of real life drivers and ads NOTHING to the plot other than being a tool for MacFarlane’s character to stick around the speedway to witness part of the crime. Even Hilary Swank’s Special Agent Sarah Grayson feels shoehorned in to add conflict to the film near the end. Whereas the members of the main cast are all very involved in the film and feel necessary and well written, these characters feel unneeded and unnecessary with flawed character traits that put them in stark contrast to the more polished characters we spend most of our time with. To me I feel like Soderbergh may have tried to do too much with too little from that perspective, which is disappointing considering how solid the movie is as a whole even without these smaller performances muddling it up.
In the end, “Logan Lucky” has its flaws, but it’s still tremendously fun and top notch heist flick adding to Soderbergh’s incredible directorial legacy. While some characters are out of place and superfluous to say the least, the ones we spend most of our time with are worth enjoying and are well presented by the actors behind them. The story is fun, the motivations are clear, the heist itself is a pulse pounding experiences during one of the worlds biggest motorsports events, and while Soderbergh does lean on an all-to-familiar formula to wrap it all up it’s still fun to see how the approach to the ratpack story can be just as effective and satisfying with a different, and more obscure, setting. Maybe it’s not the greatest film of Soderbergh’s career, but it’s a solid entry in his filmography that, in many ways, reminds us why he is so celebrated for his contributions to the genre. “Logan Lucky”, to put it simply, is a shamelessly fun time and works on almost every level to create a solid cinematic experience even for those who aren’t so familiar with the sport and setting that serve as the backdrop for all the action that unfolds.