What’s James Bond doing here as a blond-white beefcake, and redneck to boot? It takes a gulp and a little intake of breath to calm that sense of dissonance. And so the fun starts. Nothing in this film is at it seems.
That moment in Ocean’s Twelve when Matt Damon is picked up from a jail by an FBI agent and you realise the ‘FBI agent’ is his mom? Logan Lucky is a succession of those neat surprises. Eventually. Logan Lucky is a slow burner, and Soderbergh directs magisterially – setting up the story at his own pace. It starts as a bit of a shaggy dog story then speeds up towards the end, picking up multiple strands into a rather satisfying conclusion. It all pays off.
There are sinkholes underneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is one of a team of construction workers labouring underground to fix it. They pierce through to an underground chamber – a road to riches. A roomful of pneumatic tubes hoovering money from all the racetrack’s cash tills, and into a vault further along.
Jimmy limps, an old injury. His employers notice it and sack him. They say he is an insurance liability. He launches a plan to rob the racetrack. As it turns out, the heist has to happen at the busiest time possible, during the Memorial Day weekend NASCAR race – the Coca Cola 600.
Can he make it work? The Logan family suffers from a curse – they are doomed to bad luck. Jimmy’s injury, which broke his promising football prospects. His divorce. His brother (Adam Driver) Clyde’s missing hand, lost in the war in Iraq. The brothers seem to live under a shadow. But not their younger sister Mellie (Riley Keough). She doesn’t believe in curses. Mellie is a highly reliable and super competent aunt to Jimmy’s young daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie). She is also a cerebral hotshot racing driver, and probably the brains of the family. Perhaps we will see more about this in a Logan Lucky sequel.
Two families get on with the heist. The Logans siblings, and the Bang brothers led by Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). Joe Bang cracks safes and blows up things. Joe’s brothers (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) are unlikely experts, one of them boasting that he knows all about ‘them Twitters’.
Jo Bang is also, as he points out in a sustained drawl, in-car-ce-ra-ted. So to proceed with the heist, there is an added flourish – he must escape from jail, and then return, without anyone finding out.
The Logans and the Bangs are all highly improbably siblings. There is not the faintest hint of a family resemblance between any of them, and their respective take on the local accent varies wildly. This is Cohen Brothers territory, a deadpan homage of sorts, an extended riff but in a different register. There is a lovely echo from some of Charles Williams’s thrillers, like The Diamond Bikini. This all makes for great ensemble playing, and the performances are to be savoured.
The Logans might be oddballs, but the family ties are solid. One of the joys of the film – and generally of heist movies – is how much the plot depends on perfect synchronisation. In Logan Lucky, the family and friends who pull the heist together must have had access to an atomic clock. Even a fraction of a second counts in this complex waterfall of interrelated events. It’s all about timing, solidarity, and the unspoken. That sense grows as the film develops. There is an emotional depth here in this heist story which was not so apparent in Soderbergh’s other heist stories in the Ocean films.
Logan Lucky – in retrospect – manages to be the story of a pretty complex heist and at the same time, about love and friendship. But it avoids sentimentality. Early on, Jimmy tells his daughter Sadie about a John Denver song, Take Me Home, Country Roads – pointing out that nothing is ever as it seems, and that the story about the song is not the true story behind the song.
Near the end of the film, Sadie sings Take Me Home, Country Roads at a school performance. She sings it just like a normal child would, quite badly. It makes for a moment that is moving but unsentimental.
Soderbergh portrays here a different kind of America, far away from the slickness and brash lights of the Ocean films. Set in West Virginia, the story is of a semi-rural U.S. of car mechanics and hairdressers, trailers, pick-up trucks, children’s beauty pageants and stars and stripes. Soderbergh shows this without archness or judgment. He offers instead glimpses at the harsh realities of American life – being sacked on the spot for having a disability, having to live with contaminated drinking water, the pressure that a very young child faces to win a beauty pageant. Those glimpses are by the by, background colour, though they do have some role in advancing the story.
The calm, slightly un-showy tone of the film is replicated in the camera work – which happens to be Soderbergh’s own work but under an assumed name. He has also edited the film, under another assumed name. The scriptwriter at present remains a mystery, with some speculating it could be Jules Asner, or even her husband… Steven Soderbergh.
Logan Lucky is a strong story, beautifully acted. Even if it doesn’t seem so during a slightly long exposition, there is a reason for every scene, and in retrospect the narrative is economical.
Eventually things start to fall into place – some as the story plays out, but also quite some time after the film has ended. It’s one of those films that stay in your head for a while longer, as you play around with the pieces. You might want to see it again.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Rebecca Blunt (rumoured to be a pseudonym)
Cinematographer: Steven Soderbergh (as Peter Andrews)
Editor: Steven Soderbergh (as Mary Ann Bernard)
Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, Farrah Mackenzie
Originally published on Screenwords, August 2017