The Mob’s Reel: ‘Logan Lucky’ Is a Late-Summer Standout
The Mob’s Reel is a film column that features reviews and essays covering everything from the latest blockbusters to standout indies.
Scripted by Rebecca Blunt, Logan Lucky is a welcome return to the big screen for director Steven Soderbergh after a short-lived retirement from feature filmmaking. A heist-comedy set in West Virginia and North Carolina, the film is equal parts silly and sincere, proving that Soderbergh hasn’t missed a beat since 2013’s Behind the Candelabra.
When divorced dad Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) loses his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway due to his bum leg, he becomes frustrated and desperate to make ends meet. He convinces his reluctant bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a vet who lost his hand in the war, to help him rob the Speedway’s vault during a NASCAR race, also recruiting their sister Mellie (Riley Keough) as the getaway driver. In need of a demolitions expert, they cook up a scheme to quietly break out (and break back in before anyone notices) the incarcerated Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), who insists on involving his dumb, eccentric little brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson).
There’s a lo-fi, southern-fried vibe that sets the film apart from Soderbergh’s slick Ocean’s trilogy, making it a fresh take on what could have felt like familiar territory. The heist itself is carefully layered without being overcomplicated, with Soderbergh holding enough cards close to his chest to keep the audience on their toes. Parts of the Logans’ plan are delightfully ridiculous, such as the use of color-coded cockroaches and a gummy bear bomb, but things are kept relatively grounded for the most part. There’s also a great balance between subtle conversational humor and genuine laugh-out-loud moments, including a hysterical prison riot negotiation involving a request for George R.R. Martin’s yet-to-be-published conclusion to his A Song of Ice and Fire series.
Pulling triple duty as director, cinematographer and editor, Soderbergh is meticulous in the way he shoots and cuts the film without being too clinical, zeroing in on the gentle, intimate moments that give the film its humanity. It’s easy to root for Jimmy Logan, a decent guy dealt a bad hand. Having already worked together on several films, Soderbergh knows how to bring out the best in Tatum, who plays Jimmy with a shaggy soulfulness and uses his knack for comedic timing to full effect. His relationship with his young daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) is sweet and fully-formed, filled with warm little details and interactions that emphasize the sincere heart underlining the film’s quirks and laughs.
The cast surrounding Tatum is just as strong, and each performer enriches the film in unique and surprising ways. The name “Joe Bang” is hilarious on its own, but it helps that Daniel Craig has never been funnier playing the bleach-blond, tattooed, drawl-tongued convict; it’s an unexpected performance by the 007 actor, but he seems more than comfortable letting loose in this environment. Adam Driver’s subtle deadpan is a joy to watch, while Quaid and Gleeson steal scenes as Joe’s weird, empty-headed little brothers. Riley Keough’s quick wit and sharp eye suggest her character would be better off leading her own heist, and smaller roles filled by Seth MacFarlane and Dwight Yoakam are quirky highlights.
Logan Lucky sees Soderbergh in his element, and it’s easy to see why Blunt’s script, which adeptly juggles mild absurdity and earnestness, was able to pull him out of semi-retirement. Soderbergh has long been a restless creative force, so it was hard to ever truly believe that he would quit feature-length filmmaking for good, but it’s nice to see that his cinematic return is such an understated winner.