Steven Soderbergh, one of our best and most versatile directors, announced about four years ago that he was retiring from making movies and was going to focus on television from then on. Fortunately he changed his mind. His re-entry into the world of theatrical cinema is a clever and amusing heist film called Logan Lucky. This year saw the release of a movie called Logan, and another one called Lucky, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. So you might have thought the title Logan Lucky would just confuse people and cause problems at the box office, but apparently not. The film has done pretty well—in any case, it’s still playing.
One of the best occasions for fun at the movies, at least for me, is a heist film. If it’s done well, of course, with interesting characters and a plot that has enough suspense or keeps you guessing. Soderbergh, in fact, has had a lot of mainstream success creating the updated Ocean’s Eleven series, but I never took much of a liking to them. I couldn’t get into a bunch of slick hipster rich guys led by George Clooney and Brad Pitt—it just didn’t seem real enough to grab me. But Logan Lucky is another matter entirely. The people in this caper are blue collar folks from West Virginia. In one of the film’s funnier throwaway lines, a newscast labels the thieves “Ocean’s 7-Eleven.”
Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a failed ex-football star who is laid off from his construction job at a NASCAR race track because of a limp that slows him down. He then hatches a scheme to rob the track during a race, using his knowledge of the underground workings of the building, and bringing his younger brother Clyde, a bartender played by Adam Driver, into the plot as his right hand man. Actually, that’s a bad joke on my part because Clyde lost his left hand in Iraq, and now sports a weirdly huge plastic hand on the end of his stump. Finally the third Logan sibling, younger sister Mellie Logan, played by Riley Keough, is brought in as well to play a crucial role in the heist. But they need a safe cracker, and they only one they know is in jail—Joe Bang (you gotta love the name), played by Daniel Craig of all people, obnoxious, belligerent, and not that bright. He’s got only a few months left in jail, so the Logans must find a way to break him out for one day and then get him back in jail that night without anyone noticing.
It’s a crazy and complicated plan, kept just plausible enough so that the audience will go along with it for two hours. On its terms, it makes sense in the end, when the various mysteries and puzzles get tied up into a nice bow. The screenplay is by Rebecca Blunt, reportedly a pseudonym for Soderbergh’s wife Jules Asner, and it’s funny as hell. The choicest pleasures here are in the casting of actors you wouldn’t normally think of in these roles. Channing Tatum’s unusual combination of sincerity and modesty makes for an appealing heist ringleader. He’s always hinting at deeper things beneath the genial surface. Adam Driver’s deadpan expression helps create a marvelous comic atmosphere. He’s always acting dumb, and after a while you realize he isn’t. But the biggest hoot of all is Daniel Craig, the suave British actor who is the current incarnation of James Bond. He’s irresistible playing a tattooed redneck with a crew cut, hitting on every woman he sees. He has to bend his mouth in weird ways in order to simulate a Southern American accent, but come on, it’s Daniel Craig and he’s hilarious.
You could read a lot into the depressed working class environment of Soderbergh’s new picture, but there’s nothing overtly political in it. We laugh, but we also have respect for the survival skills of these ragtag characters. Logan Lucky is just pure fun.