Logan Lucky is an entertaining romp powered by a smart script, strong performances across the board, and great direction.
After Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) loses his job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway NASCAR track, due to insurance concerns stemming from a leg injury that he suffered during his high school football days, he becomes very strapped financially. In addition to being unemployed, Jimmy's personal life is in disarray as he struggles to fulfill the responsibilities of raising his young daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) and learns his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) is planning to move across state lines with her new family - which would make it more difficult for Jimmy to see Sadie. Considering the possibility of taking legal action, Jimmy realizes he's in desperate need of money.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and shortly after being let go at the track, Jimmy plans to rob it. Organizing a crew that consists of his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), sister Mellie (Riley Keough), and legendary criminal Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), the unlikely band of thieves hope to pull their task off during the highly-publicized Coca-Cola 600 race in Charlotte - where they have to move quickly to avoid detection and get away scot free.
Following a four-year absence from feature films after Behind the Candelabra, Logan Lucky marks director Steven Soderbergh's return to moviemaking - in a genre he's very familiar with, no less. Over the years, Soderbergh has delivered several high-quality crime capers, including his George Clooney collaborations Out of Sight and the Ocean's trilogy. Promising to show audiences "how the other half steals," the hope going into this film is that it would put a new spin on a classic formula, buoyed by Soderbergh's mastery behind the camera. Fortunately, it's successful. Logan Lucky is an entertaining romp powered by a smart script, strong performances across the board, and great direction.
Those earlier heist films by Soderbergh found success by having viewers live vicariously through smooth and dapper criminals, but Logan Lucky takes things in the opposite direction. Primarily set in Boone County, West Virginia, the film is a story of small-town folks trying to get rich quick. The screenplay, written by Rebecca Blunt (possibly a pseudonym for someone else), is shrewd in its execution. Based on the premise, the characters of Logan Lucky easily could have been stereotypical caricatures for audiences to laugh at, but instead they're all well-rounded individuals that are much more than what their simple-minded outward appearance would suggest. This makes the ensemble all the more fun to see in action, since they feel like actual people and ground the proceedings in some form of reality. A subplot involving a prison is woven nicely into the main story, giving the heist itself a "race against the clock" feel to up the stakes and strike a nice balance between comedy and drama.
The strengths of the script are further boosted by the actors, all of whom are in top form. Tatum is the lead here, using his screen presence to play Jimmy as a likable, well-meaning protagonist who cares for his family and wants what's best for them. Jimmy's sweet and touching relationship with Sadie serves as an affecting and poignant through-line, making it easy to root for him. Driver is also unsurprisingly excellent as Clyde, forming an easygoing chemistry with Tatum to sell their brotherly connection. The two characters feel like siblings with a history together in their interactions (see: the recurring "Logan Curse" exchanges). Logan Lucky doesn't play up their bond too much for emotional impact (which is in-line with the low-key nature of the narrative), but audiences know it's there and the script gives Tatum and Driver some good scenes with one another to demonstrate their dynamic.
In terms of the supporting cast, Daniel Craig is the clear star as Joe Bang, a convict with a speciality for breaking into bank vaults. Shedding the persona of his brooding, serious-minded James Bond, Craig lets loose and has a blast with Bang, stealing just about every scene he's in with his various quirks. Joe is admittedly not the deepest character Soderbergh has ever depicted onscreen, but that doesn't make him any less delightful to watch. A collection of famous faces - including Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterson, Sebastian Stan and Hillary Swank - all have bit parts to flesh the cast of Logan Lucky out, and they all make the most of their limited material. None of the performances in Logan Lucky are bad, and even the smallest roles are afforded characterization, it's just some of them aren't onscreen enough to make that lasting of an impression. Because of this, some of the payoffs don't have quite the intended effect, but that's hardly enough to derail the entire picture.
Soderbergh deserves credit for knowing exactly what Logan Lucky is and keeping the project in its lane for the briskly-paced 2-hour runtime. It's gleefully unpretentious (there is an "Ocean's 7-11" joke) and never has higher aspirations than to simply entertain its audience with an outside-the-box heist concept, which is appreciated. Because of this, Logan Lucky is arguably one of the director's most accessible films to date - an easy watch for both casual viewers and hardcore cinephiles. Of course, the technical merits of the film are second-to-none, thanks to the cinematography by Soderbergh and production design from Howard Cummings, which transports viewers into the heart of West Virginia. The Oscar winner is still on his A-game, proving he's got a lot left in the tank.
In the end Logan Lucky is a welcome return for Soderbergh, and a pleasantly atypical way to get through the doldrums of late August at the multiplex. Thanks to great turns from its A-list cast and a witty script that doesn't sell viewers short, the film is an entertaining and refreshing ride throughout. It's easy to recommend for those who are fans of Soderbergh, the actors involved, or crime films. As we await the fall movie season and all the awards-contenders that brings, Logan Lucky makes for a great time to bid farewell to summer.
Logan Lucky is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 119 minutes and is rated PG-13 for language and some crude comments.
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- Logan Lucky (2017) release date: Aug 18, 2017