It’s poetry that I saw Logan Lucky shortly after seeing Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Both are cinematic odd ducks – works of sly populism that feature Channing Tatum rocking his native southern accent and copious amounts of John Denver.
But comparing them side by side doesn’t do Logan Lucky justice. This is a deftly sincere, organically energetic, and endearingly quaint little achievement by director Steven Soderbergh that truly deserves an all-American viewing.
The more I describe the plot, the more political it’s going to sound, but Logan Lucky is not actually a political movie. To wit: Jimmy Logan (Tatum) is a divorced blue-collar construction laborer in West Virginia with visitation rights for his 11-year old beauty pageant contender daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie). Jimmy’s brother Clyde (Adam Driver) is a disabled combat veteran operating a bar, and his sister Mellie (Riley Keough) runs a hair salon. When Jimmy is laid off from his job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway for a pre-existing football injury and learns that his ex-wife intends to uproot herself, her rich husband, and Sadie to Lynchburg, he returns with his siblings to his old life of crime to steal enough cash from the Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600 race to reunite him with Sadie. To do so, he and Clyde recruit their old friend Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), an inmate at the county prison, and his brothers Sam and Fish (Brian Gleeson & Jack Quaid respectively).
I’m going to commit a crime against criticism and say that the movie Logan Lucky most reminds me of is not actually Soderbergh’s former smash hit Ocean’s Eleven. It’s Die Hard. Here we are enthralled by not merely one, but a group of admirably sincere and goodhearted curmudgeons on a daring caper to reunite a broken family against a strikingly modern political backdrop. Logan Lucky’s characters lack Danny Ocean’s and Rusty Ryan’s polished glam. All three leads are alpha-male, horsey butterfaces who don’t strut and smirk their way through life. Beneath their stock-typical white-trash simpleton exteriors are layered, virtuous, compelling human beings far more cunning and sophisticated than their adversaries would think them to be. They are everymen: aware of their position, blending in with and calculating the habits of their homegrown crowd to outwit those who think themselves invincible.
And the NASCAR racetrack setting personifies middle-American attitudes about elitism much the same way the Nakatomi building setting partially personified then-present concerns about Japanese hostile corporate takeovers. The less you know the better, but I will say that the 600 race, as an event, is slathered in enough commercial branding and product placement to moisten a lobbyist, and the Speedway’s money is funneled through underground pneumatic tubes that might as well resemble a laundry machine.
That, along with so many other great moments, brings about a ton of laughter for a non-comedy. The dialogue is outstanding but Soderbergh doesn’t tell where he can show. Even a step-by-step refrigerator checklist of a robbery is funny in and of itself, but it also essentially tells you how the film is paced. There is one comedic sequence involving Seth MacFarlane and Sebastian Stan that I found to be a bit rushed and clumsy in execution. It does satisfy its purpose, though, so it’s not worth more than a two-sentence gripe.
Actually, everything has a payoff, even to the point where the ending drags just a little bit. Then again, I also didn’t want to leave the characters. Logan Lucky is further elevated by the strength of its acting. Tatum, Driver, Keough, Gleeson, Quaid, and even Dwight Yoakam all bring their A+ game, but Craig takes the MVP prize. He’s never been this awesome.
Logan Lucky is a great story by every measure, a great time at the movies, and one of the year’s best films. It’s well acted, well shot, well cut, humane, musically moving, and it walks the political/apolitical red-state cultural tightrope as gracefully as anything else Soderbergh has ever done. It deserves a mention in every future discussion of “representation in Hollywood” as an example of doing it right without pandering. Don’t miss it.