‘Logan Lucky’ review: Soderbergh is Safely Back Behind the Wheel

About halfway through Logan Lucky the film slows down to focus on the story of a NASCAR driver who has returned to the sport after a long absence. The spectators wonder if the young talent can possibly live up to expectations or be as good as he once was after such a long time away.

Logan Lucky is Stephen Soderbergh’s first film since the excellent Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra (2013). He returns to the genre that he is most famous for mastering – the heist movie. Only this time he has left behind the suave suits and fancy hotels of the Ocean’s trilogy to bring us the hare-brained scheme of the Logan’s, a working class West Virginia family.

Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, who is fired from his job due to an insurance issue pertaining to his injured leg. He needs money to pay for a potentially expensive custody battle over his daughter. Jimmy decides to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway and enlists the help of his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and beautiful sister Mellie (Riley Keough). They also require the assistance of an eccentric explosive expert, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). They just have to break him out of jail first.

Like the Ocean’s movies, the audience is not informed of the plan ahead of the heist. The joy of the film comes from seeing Jimmy putting these elements in play and wondering how they will pay off during the day of the race. Why do they need fireman’s helmets? What is Joe Bang making in the wood shop? Why on earth are they painting cockroaches with nail polish? And what does any of this have to do with a hit and run and an uneaten slice of cake?

Luckily the script, by mysterious new screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (it’s thought that the name is a pseudonym), is incredibly clever. The mechanics of the heist are deeply satisfying. It also happens to be very funny. A prolonged gag involving a group of prisoners and the complicated publication history of The Winds of Winter is very amusing.

The performances in the film are fantastic. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are very natural as brothers, an unspoken affection and trust between them at all times. Daniel Craig was obviously the headline casting here and his performance manages to be huge, but never a caricature. He’s very entertaining to watch. I was particularly impressed by the writing for and performance of the young sister Mellie, played by Riley Keough. Mellie has this easy-going competence to everything she does. She never seems fazed by obstacles and exudes a quiet authority. Hilary Swank also gives a short but memorable turn as the investigating agent who seems to gain a rush of genuine pleasure when catching people in a lie. The film is almost perfectly cast.

There is one exception. Seth Macfarlane appears as a (potentially) British race promoter who is largely present to cause trouble for our heroes. He’s an obnoxious character which Macfarlane is only really capable of playing as an absurd cartoon. He particularly stood out here in a film that managed to be both natural and stylish.

Another problem comes in the transition from the second to third act in which the focus of the film is unclear. There’s a little meandering and some disappointing resolutions. However, the climax of the movie reveals the mischievous intentions behind these scenes. It just may test your patience in getting there, especially after the immediately rewarding first two acts.

Anyone concerned about the time Soderbergh has spent out of the driver’s seat needn’t worry. This is easily one of his best films. There’s an effortless charm at play, making full use of the stellar cast and fun premise.  Logan Lucky is a triumphant return for one of the most interesting directors (thankfully once again) working today.

5 / 5

Paul Salt is the co-host of One Good Thing

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