1. Logan Lucky is like watching a wizened, veteran, ornery old professional baseball player take three seasons off before then deciding, with no warning, to return in time for the World Series and subsequently hit rockets off every pitch thrown to him. Steven Soderbergh has often been best after he has taken time off to recharge, and the four years of “retirement” after 2013’s Side Effects seem to have sharpened his filmmaking instincts. Logan Lucky has the briskness and sheen of a professional, a man who, after years of restlessness, has become comfortable enough to simply tell a story with confidence, clarity and gusto. You can feel Soderbergh in every frame of this thing, but he’s not foregrounded: He knows he doesn’t have to do that anymore. Soderbergh, for all his greatness, has never had a signature stamp, a theme or a vision that he consistently hits hard every time out. But in a recent interview, Soderbergh hinted at what comes next, complaining that he is “done with prestige pictures,” that he just wants to make movies that are fun to watch. If this is the new goal—and given it’s Soderbergh, he’ll surely the move the goalposts on himself the minute things start going well—he is off to a splendid start. Logan Lucky is a blast.
2. The Logans of the title are Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver). Jimmy’s a West Virginian divorced, doting dad who has just lost his construction job at Charlotte Motor Speedway and decides, in an effort to change his life and to get back at the jerks who canned him, to get together with Clyde, a bartender who lost part of his left arm in Iraq, to rob the Speedway of millions of dollars. The brothers draw up their master plan, which consists of breaking an explosives expert named Joe Bank (played by a loose, undeniably funny Daniel Craig) out of jail, sneaking into the Speedway the same day as the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 and evading two insistent, suspicious detectives (Hilary Swank and Macon Blair). If you’re thinking this sounds like a redneck Ocean’s 11, well, Soderbergh is way ahead of you: At one point, a newscaster actually calls Jimmy and his gang “Ocean’s 7-11.” But Soderbergh, like with those films, is only slightly interested in the details of the big heist. The heist itself is the McGuffin. To paraphrase Ebert, it’s not about the heist. It’s about how it’s about the heist.
3. One of the many impressive things about Logan Lucky is how intelligent its main characters are, particularly the Logans themselves, who in addition to being down on their luck are famous in their town for a family curse of bad luck. Seeing Tatum flabbed up and trucker-hatted, and Driver wearing a Bob Seger T-shirt, you might think that the film sees them, and anyone else in the film, as objects of scorn or ridicule. But the Logans are every bit as smart as Danny and Rusty from the Ocean’s films. There’s a quiet anger in each of them, but it’s not a self-pitying anger. Both Tatum and Driver imbue them with a quiet dignity, a grounded fortitude, a determination that they’re not gonna be made a sucker. This is shared by everyone around them, from Craig’s Joe Bang (who is cartoonish but also relentless and competent) to Riley Keough’s steely hairdresser/car mechanic to Katie Holmes’ concerned ex-wife and mother to Jimmy’s daughter, who knows how formidable Jimmy is and, deep down, is cheering for him. The chumps in this movie are the feds, the corporate weasels, the loud self-promoters, represented by a TV huckster played in appropriately grating fashion by Seth MacFarlane. (Leave it to Soderbergh to find a way to use the endlessly irritating MacFarlane: Give him an endlessly irritating character to play.) The Logans are “Real America” at its best—quiet, decent, taciturn dudes kicking your ass.
4. Some of this comes from Tatum, who gives a low-key, oddly mature performance. It reminded me a little of Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, a big-shot movie star not only dialing himself back, but digging deeper to find the humble good ol’ boy within. Most of Logan Lucky is fun and light, but there’s a scene toward the end, involving Jimmy and his daughter, that sneaks up on you with its power. Tatum is funny and likable, but he’s also planting little seeds of empathy throughout; you’ll be surprised by how much you’re rooting for him. Driver is his match, a veteran who doesn’t regret the military service that cost him his arm and, in fact, is wiser and stronger for the experience. (Driver spent nearly three years in the Marines, and you can sense his dedication to getting this character right.) But this is all cemented by Soderbergh, who trusts that his characters are smart and thus lets them just be smart. You might be able to figure out the heist and you might not, but you trust Jimmy and Clyde to get it right. Soderbergh believes in these guys, and so will you.
5. The film still has all the little Soderbergh touches—there’s a scene involving a prison riot that gets caught up in the differences between the TV version and the book version of Game of Thrones in which you can almost sense Soderbergh nudging the camera—but what’s perhaps most impressive about it is how effortless it all seems. Soderbergh makes grand, brisk, delightful entertainment feel like the easiest thing in the world, which, if you’ve been to a multiplex any time, well, ever, you know isn’t the case. He says he just wants his movies to be seen “by as many people as possible.” Soderbergh has been an indie wunderkind, an anarchic prankster, a self-sabotaging bomb thrower, even a studio hack. Logan Lucky isn’t the best movie he’s ever made, but it’s pointing him a most fascinating new direction—the auteur as compulsive entertainer. He’s well on his way. If he has any say in it, we may end up liking this version of Soderbergh most of all.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Rebecca Blunt
Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Hilary Swank, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterson
Release Date: August 18, 2017