Steven Soderbergh is a master filmmaker. Logan Lucky is a wonderful film with a fantastically unpredictable plot. As Soderbergh returns from a five-year directing hiatus with this heist drama/comedy, set in West Virginia, that entertains with authentic characters and situations plus great humor that respects and honors the subjects. Soderbergh, the cast, and crew easily embed laughs in various situations during a major heist where the genius crew is referred to as the “Ocean’s 7/11.”
Channing Tatum works wonders as Jimmy Logan in his fourth collaboration with director Steven Soderbergh and Riley Keough gets a star making role as Jimmy’s younger sister Mellie. Tatum exudes a frustrated, but focused Jimmy…a quiet storm with formidable intelligence as his world seemingly unravels with misfortune, which reflects the perceived “Logan family curse.” He has faced adversity before, which gives him a helpful boost among these new challenges.
Jimmy’s faithful to himself, but especially to his daughter, played by Farrah MacKenzie in a star making role. He quickly puts a seatbelt on her, but not himself – a unique trait that reflects his seemingly cavalier recklessness that’s actually a unique, “don’t sweat the small stuff” logic where the everyday worries of others are stress free to him since he’s focused in the right areas. He even puts Mellie in check when she questions his focus. Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) also impresses as the third Logan sibling Clyde.
Katie Holmes plays Jimmy’s ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katherine Heigl was originally cast, but left due to pregnancy) and Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) plays local health professional Sylvia Harrison.
The Logan family background plays an important role as other key characters appear including Max Chilblain, well played by Seth MacFarlane and Joe Bang, very well played by Daniel Craig, who’s “This side of the table wearing a onesie” in prison. Joe’s two siblings, Sam, played by Brian Gleeson, and Fish, played by Jack Quaid, also play important roles as co-conspirators with unique moral compasses. “We need a computer wiz,” Jimmy tells them. “I know everything there is to know about computers, okay? All the Twitters. I know ‘em,” replies Fish.
An almost unrecognizable Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) plays NASCAR driver Dayton White who’s on Max’s race team while key law enforcements characters are played by Dwight Yoakam and Hilary Swank who has one of the latest appearances for a major film for a major, talented star (yes, she is and always will be) as Special Agent Sarah Grayson.
Several NASCAR drivers and commenters make cameos including Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch in a memorable sequence as West Virginia state troopers. Jim O’Heir (TV’s Parks and Recreation) also has a memorable role as Jimmy’s boss.
Soderbergh returns to his familiar crew while also taking on cinematographer and editor duties himself while the screenwriter credit lists “Rebecca Blunt” who is suspected to be a fictitious person, Soderbergh’s wife, Jules Asner, or Soderbergh himself. I hope there is an impending Oscar nomination to unravel this fun mystery.
Soderbergh and his crew create some amazing sequences while filming at the Charlotte Motor Speedway at Charlotte and Atlanta including footage of the actual NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 and the Bank of America 500 races.
The pacing works well. The plot never drags and has no real villain. Law enforcement, emergency crews, and NASCAR workers/crews do their jobs among the heist hijinks. No individual antagonist seen (not even human resources in an early sequence) to personify any possible villainy that would be a distraction. Audiences can concentrate on the situations and, most importantly, the characters’ decisions. Action is paramount here and it’s the silent ones that are often the best as ill-meaning characters become their own worst enemy
Characters expedite discovery, motivation, opportunity, conflict and intelligence all to greatly benefit the plot as various associations and reputations also play a key role. It’s a fun, enjoyable experience even as the potential of the protagonists getting caught by law enforcement and other characters provides constant tension. Potential consequences are portrayed realistically, and the violence is short, cleverly implied and without glorification.
Patient, observant audiences get rewarded throughout the one hour and 59-minute running time where even paying attention to what’s on the television pay dividends. Soderbergh’s camerawork in only these TV sequences exemplify mastery. For example, he presents medium and long shots of the TVs so the audience feels more like an observer instead of blasting them with a full screen shot that demands unnecessary attention and insults the intelligence.
Soderbergh’s low shots across car seats and other gems enhance this quality film even more. Soderbergh and his expert crew bring nice closure to all the presented elements with a great ending that leaves the door open for more installments (maybe filmmakers will produce some prequels too).
The musical score by David Holmes helps move viewers into even more authentic portrayals and emotional investment into the characters along with great songs from musicians including Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, John Denver, Dr. John, and Bo Diddly plus the standout “Flashing Lights” performed and written by David “Lord” Sutch and co-written by Jimmy Page. Leann Rimes also makes an appearance singing the National Anthem.
Logan Lucky is a Bleecker Street and Fingerprint Releasing film that comes highly recommended (***1/2 out of four stars). This “hillbilly heist” moves at the pace of the characters and is rated PG-13 for language and some crude comments. This film further cements Soderbergh’s filmmaking stature. He can handle any material well. Note: the initial home video version is noticeably light on the extras with just two deleted scenes (Blu-ray as well), so hopefully an expanded version will be available soon…maybe in time for the 2018 racing season! Be sure to see the ending credits for a nice sound homage and fun disclaimer text.