By Preston Wilder
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) isn’t actually lucky. None of his family are, you might even say they’ve been cursed. The Logan family history is a litany of unfortunate accidents, fatally electrocuted uncles and the aunt who won the Lotto, then lost the ticket. It’s enough to make a person turn to crime, in fact that’s what he does.
Jimmy has a limp, an ex-wife, a one-armed brother named Clyde (Adam Driver) and a favourite song: ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, a song about West Virginia which is also where he lives, in among the coalmines and country fairs and child beauty pageants. Jimmy also has a note stuck to his fridge, what Clyde calls “a robbery to-do list”, setting out the rules when robbing a bank (“1. Decide to rob a bank”) – though in fact his target is a sports track hosting NASCAR races and a vault bulging with money. Jimmy’s not a professional criminal, far from it – but he’s lost his job, and his ex may be moving away with their little daughter, and the world is such an overwhelming place in general.
That last bit is key in Logan Lucky, director Steven Soderbergh’s return to feature filmmaking after four years (a hiatus he mostly spent producing and directing two seasons of The Knick). Jimmy and his crew live in a bubble, a small place where everyone seems to know each other; the modern world is remote to them, and mostly inexplicable. Jimmy doesn’t have a mobile phone, viewing it (correctly, it turns out) as being part of the System, “people tellin’ me what to do” – and, though he’s been known to look something up on “the Google”, his lifestyle is decidedly pre-digital. This is part of the forgotten America we’ve heard so much about recently, giving the film a political tinge which, however, it wears very lightly. Logan Lucky is a comedy, a pointedly relaxed, casual movie that’s liable to pause the plot for a meeting with an old schoolmate or an interview with a vain NASCAR driver – though its casualness is also deceptive, turning out to be part of a larger plan.
Soderbergh is the guy behind Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels; he has a mathematical, problem-solving mind. Yet he also has a different side (or perhaps it’s the other side of the same coin) in being unpretentious and informal, utterly without snobbery or ceremony: he loves everyone, and loves them all equally. Logan Lucky fuses both sides of the filmmaker. As in Ocean’s Eleven, he likes to cut between the different components of the heist as it unfolds, like a scientist building an equation: now we’re with Logan in the vault, now in a prison where a distraction has been planned (the negotiations between warden and prisoners turn into an argument about Game of Thrones), now in the control room where staff are starting to get suspicious. Soderbergh does his best to play fair, anticipating questions like ‘But why didn’t the cops catch her speeding?’ and supplying quasi-plausible answers – but, just as Ocean’s Eleven was less about the mechanics of the heist and more about the camaraderie between the criminals, Logan Lucky is finally not so much about problems being solved as the film’s affection for these hillbilly heroes, and its fervent wish for good things to happen to them.
To be honest, the film sags a bit, especially when the heist is followed by the late introduction of an Oscar-Winning Guest Star as an FBI agent. The pacing stumbles, too much attention is paid to the antics of a couple of none-too-bright brothers, and even the film’s ace in the hole – bleached-blond Daniel Craig as master safecracker ‘Joe Bang’ – doesn’t really get enough to do, beyond looking cool. This is not a great movie – yet it has a generous spirit, made explicit in the final act by two unexpected scenes which I’ll try not to spoil (one involves envelopes filled with money; the other involves, yes, ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’). Logan is a cool film melting gently into a softer, sentimental one, its casualness turning out to be kindness.
Above all, Soderbergh has an independent spirit – which is why, in a polarised America, he can still have a soft spot for these Trump-country hicks living in their own little world. Two other scenes stand out: in one, Clyde the bartender deftly prepares a vodka cocktail despite having only one arm; in the other, Joe Bang fashions a bomb out of salt, bleach and a handful of candy. Both scenes are about people making the most of what they have, rising above limited resources to create (in its way) a work of art. Logan Lucky is charmingly goofy on the surface, actually sincere and even a bit inspirational. Jimmy may be part of an unlucky family, but the film says this doesn’t matter. You make your own luck.
DIRECTED BY Steven Soderbergh
STARRING Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig
US 2017 118 mins