This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Two brothers, one a little more confident than the other, devise a foolproof plan to pull off the heist of their lives. With the help of a few friends, they embark on a whimsical adventure laced with mishaps, love, and excitement. You’d be forgiven if you’d have associated this logline with Wes Anderson’s 1996 debut, BOTTLE ROCKET. But the fact of the matter is that Steven Soderbergh has come out of his all-hype feature film retirement and decided to take that very concept out for a spin. Of course, the man just added some OCEAN’S ELEVEN into his blender, so the results aren’t only propulsive, they’re extraordinary.
That is to say, fans of the Ocean’s films will not be disappointed with Soderbergh’s homecoming feature. LOGAN LUCKY is fast, quippy, and just as charmingly elaborate as the man’s best. The entire experience is scaled down to a smaller ensemble with a significantly more absurd robbery, but that’s part of the charm. It’s clear that Soderbergh is as good as ever in his framing of these spiraling storylines, paying off seemingly trivial plot beats with a deftness that only a veteran of his ilk could master. But that doesn’t change the fact that LOGAN LUCKY is still just another Soderbergh heist film. Sure, it’s been a decade since the man last made one, but it’s not exactly anything new, although the milieu certainly spices things up.
I guess John Slattery’s calendar was too full
And yet, right off the bat Soderbergh spares no second to remind us that he’s indisputably better at directing than your average chum. Even the most vanilla dialogue scene is peppered in long, unassuming takes and wonderful characterization. Channing Tatum—who has become Soderbergh’s new Julia Roberts—delivers his empathy A-game as a blue-collar divorcee. Adam Driver continues to show that he’s got acting chops for days as Tatum’s soft-spoken brother, a performance that evokes a boatload of sympathy despite never really going beyond base characterization. But the icing on the cake is Daniel Craig. The man’s an absolute wrecking ball, the kind of performer whose talent I’ve prophesied since the release of CASINO ROYALE.
Oddly enough, the sore thumb in Soderbergh’s picture is Seth MacFarlane. It would be unfair to call the man unfunny or ill-suited for his role as a smug, British Nascar racer, but there’s an element of overacting that doesn’t exactly do him any favors. It’s not Jake-Gyllenhaal-in-OKJA bad, but it’s no Laurence Olivier either. Perhaps the reason MacFarlane caught my attention so much is because he does end up registering as filler for an otherwise soundproof heist film. He’s not essential to the operation, and any conflict that he instigates is quickly solved without any involvement from our ragtag team of hillbilly criminals.
Believe it or not, it’s a spinoff to Joe Dirt
Which brings me to Soderbergh’s depiction of the flyover states. LOGAN LUCKY’s greatest perk is that it bypasses any and all hick-shaming despite the absurdity of its premise. With a first act that shows characters using toilet seats to play horseshoes at a tractor-race county fair, you’d be right to believe that Soderbergh wasn’t exactly painting the kindest picture of blue-collar West Virginians. But thankfully, the characters that inhabit LOGAN LUCKY’s world are smart, driven, charming, and most importantly, intelligent victims of circumstance. Tatum is fired from his construction job due to a bum leg, and Driver faces ridicule as an amputee. There’s a respect being shown here for a community that has long been ostracized, and it’s not only refreshing, but necessary.
And that’s perhaps LOGAN LUCKY’s greatest charm: it’s different. With the added caliber of Hilary Swank, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, and Katherine Waterston, Soderbergh’s comeback is overflowing with talent. If that’s not enough, his skill as a visual linguist is jaw dropping, utilizing a narrative shorthand through montage that re-contextualizes my opinion of less daring blockbusters. The fact that LOGAN LUCKY is not the norm is a sad realization. Frankly it’s not a huge narrative accomplishment—I would have appreciated some characterization that justifies why Tatum is such a savant or why his brother is so willing to be complicit in this criminal activity. But I’m also willing to ignore those criticisms in the wake of Soderbergh’s formal skill. LOGAN LUCKY—much like last year’s THE NICE GUYS—reminds me that blockbuster entertainment can still maintain an authorial presence. Let’s hope to see more of that in the future.