Although he announced his retirement from filmmaking several years ago, Steven Soderbergh never truly abandoned us. In a world with better theatrical distribution models, Behind the Candelabra would have been in theaters instead of on HBO, and Soderbergh still went on to crush it on TV with the critically acclaimed series The Knick. But now he’s “back” with Logan Lucky, and he hasn’t missed a beat. While I don’t love all of Soderbergh’s films, his talent is undeniable, and with Logan Lucky, he takes a movie that could have been so breezy that it would have floated away or a film that could have poked fun at poor white people and instead came away with a movie that’s painfully funny, as cool as any of the Ocean’s movies, and loves its hillbilly characters unabashedly. The second Logan Lucky was over, I wanted to walk right back in and see it again.
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has just been fired from his construction job fixing sinkholes at the Charlotte Motor Speedway after an HR rep spotted him limping (an injury he suffered long before he started his construction job) and didn’t want to worry about insurance. His brother Clyde (Adam Driver), who lost an arm fighting in the second Iraq War, tends bar and keeps bringing up the “Logan Family Curse.” When Jimmy’s ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) threatens to move from West Virginia to Virginia with their daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), Jimmy decides that he’s had it, and that it’s time to stage a robbery at the Speedway so he’ll have the money to hire a lawyer. He recruits a team of misfits including demolitions expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), Bang’s brothers, Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid), and Jimmy’s sister Mellie (Riley Keough) to rob the Speedway during a race.
Rather than just trying to do Ocean’s Eleven with a new coat of paint, Soderbergh takes his comic heist model and really invests in a new set of characters and their surroundings. If the Ocean’s movies are all polished and smooth, Logan Lucky cherishes all the bumps and ridges this new environment provides. In most stories, the characters featured in Logan Lucky—poor West Virginians—are usually depicted as bumpkins, tragic figures, or background. They don’t get to be the heroes, or if they do, their heroism is related to working in mines. Jimmy Logan is at the same level as Danny Ocean in terms of planning a heist, and whereas you never really get the sense that money itself is important to Danny, for Jimmy it has real consequences.
And yet Soderbergh never lets his movie get bogged down or looks at his heroes as hopeless cases. There’s so much love for these people and their environment that you can’t help but root for them. Every time the movie threatens to get too heavy with new characters or new complications, Soderbergh just uses some narrative jujitsu to make the movie even stronger. When an old crush from high school (Katherine Waterston) re-enters Jimmy’s life, the movie knows how to get the most out of the scene without detracting from the heist plot. When FBI Agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank) and her partner (Macon Blair) are called in, they make the story richer rather than dragging it out.
In time, we may even come to look at Logan Lucky as better than the Ocean’s movies (and I say that as someone who thinks 11 is endlessly rewatchable, 12 is an underappreciated gem, and 13 is fine but a little too safe) because Soderbergh is operating at the top of his game. Whereas Ocean’s 11 is a propulsive movie that never takes its foot off the gas, Logan Lucky is content to just have weird scenes that pretty much lampoon the heist genre without ever undermining it. If Ocean’s 11 is too cool for school, Logan Lucky is the dropout who still achieved the same thing anyway, which makes it slightly more impressive.
The entire movie is a blast from start to finish, featuring outstanding performances from the entire cast (this is definitely Craig’s best non-Bond performance since he became Bond), and while even the film itself cites the heist as “Ocean’s 7-11”, it’s got a flavor and energy all its own. If Soderbergh wanted to do a new trilogy of Logan Lucky movies, I would be first in line. The movie is fast, fun, and an absolute joy that shows Soderbergh hasn’t missed a step. I’m still thinking about all of my favorite moments from Logan Lucky, and I can’t wait to see it again.
Logan Lucky hits theaters August 18.