After a four-year hiatus Steven Soderbergh has returned to feature filmmaking with Logan Lucky – and what a return it is. Channing Tatum is Jimmy Logan, a devoted father struggling to cut a deal with his ex-wife (Katie Holmes) for custody of their daughter.
Deciding to even the odds with his run of bad luck, Jimmy convinces his one-armed barman brother (Adam Driver), hairdresser sister (Riley Keough) and in-car-cer-rated career criminal Joe Bang (a peroxide Daniel Craig, somewhere near his best) to rob a NASCAR track on race day. While Logan Lucky impresses with its caper plotting, it’s also a masterclass in indie filmmaking with a considered political commentary. On the simplest of levels, it inverts what Soderbergh did with Ocean’s Eleven, though crafted with far more sincerity and heart.
Tatum’s Jimmy possesses old-world sensibilities. He carries a mobile phone which has long since been disconnected. The only reason Jimmy needs a phone is to take pictures of his daughter. He also spends time with her discussing the meaning of lyrics to country songs, liking them for what they are, but admiring them more for the story of how the songs came to be written. These small details speak volumes as to the type of guy Jimmy is. The outside world also doesn’t touch the central characters in any tangible terms. While they might be proud of their West Virginian heritage, wistfully singing John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, they’re in no sense political. The movie very much is.
One of the most political elements in the film is – unsurprisingly in a heist movie – about money. At the race that the Logans are going to rob, money is literally sucked up in vacuum tubes before being deposited in a vault. People are being sucked dry by the corporation that sponsors the event. Big brands are good for the American economy – for honest working folk, less so. Adding to this theme is Seth MacFarlane’s Max Chilblain, a narcissistic British racing driver out to promote his vile energy drink, again hammering home the message that it’s the flip of a coin that determines who wins and who loses, regardless of merit. But that doesn’t mean you can’t play the system. It’s in this message that Soderbergh’s meta-narrative lies. Like Jimmy, he’s happy to take mainstream investment to get the job done, the difference is Jimmy steals it, but like Jimmy, Soderbergh he has many a trick up his sleeve.
Soderbergh has made an indie movie the way he wanted to, on his terms, and the result shows the success of this method. Soderbergh’s canniest move, however, is that at a time when America is more divided than ever – between the North and South, rich and poor, black and white – he would choose to set his film in Virginia among the dungaree-clad with thick, slack-jawed accents. The difference is that Soderbergh inverts the cliches: there isn’t a confederate flag, gun-toting redneck or a single pro-Trump banner in sight. Soderbergh isn’t pointing fun at these characters; he’s celebrating them. Logan Lucky is satisfying on the simplest of levels, but if you peel back the layers it becomes evermore rewarding.
Joseph Walsh | @JosephDAWalsh