The film ultimately makes good on its name, embracing an inclusive, warm-hearted tale that allows everyone to share the wealth.
Marked by precise, process-focused disquisitions on a wide variety of places, professions and practices, Steven Soderbergh’s films are often derided as coldly clinical, a designation rooted in the director’s evident control-freak tendencies and always meticulous mise-en-scène. Yet despite the organizational rigor that characterizes his work, it ultimately contains little of the aesthetic similitude of someone like Wes Anderson, defined less by stylistic trademarks than a prevailing structural ethos. Never a builder of worlds from the ground up, the director instead delights in exploring existing ones, a quality that, in his last few projects, has led from cloak-and-dagger pulp intrigue to modern clinical psychology to the hermeneutic weirdness of Liberace’s rococo pleasure dome, riffing on a wide variety of modes and genres in the process. Now, returning from a comically short retirement, he once again plunks down in entirely new territory, imbuing the rural rhythms of West Virginia coal country with a familiar level of attentive detail and compositional grace.
This involves another collaboration with Channing Tatum, an actor whose casual, effortless charisma pairs well with Soderbergh’s tightly calibrated craftsmanship, the comfy unwashed denim to his pressed and dry-cleaned shirt. Their most famous previous collaboration, <em>Magic Mike</em>, was winsome trash cinema pitched at the highest level of craft, a bonhomie-packed male stripper musical with a potent economic message concealed at its center. <em>Logan Lucky</em> isn’t nearly as revelatory, but as the rare mid-budget movie with a balanced mix of comedy, bravado and political insight, it still boasts a more-than-respectable bag of tricks, managing to work subtle critiques of our current system, easy character rapport and ample local color into a high-stakes heist narrative, all without ever losing its good-humored even keel.
In many ways, the film reads as a post-Recession response to Soderbergh’s <em>Ocean’s</em> trilogy, and stands out as its definitive reflection, the former’s suave jet-setting cool swapped out for plucky down-home resourcefulness. Set in an unnamed mountain town, <em>Logan Lucky</em> tracks the latter-day fortunes of the Logans—represented by siblings Jimmy (Tatum), Clyde (Adam Driver) and Mellie (Riley Keough)—a clan marred by a vaguely-defined family curse. As promoted by Clyde, the curse seems less like supernatural bad luck than an effort to mythologize and rationalize the vagaries of life in this battered corner of the country, a place where the water has gone bad and the jobs have long since dried up. Already commuting two states away to a construction job beneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jimmy finds himself nudged further from the straight and narrow once he’s unceremoniously fired, bumped off by unseen bosses for failing to declare a previously existing condition.
This set of circumstances might seem to point toward a dramatic reckoning with the levers of power, yet while the film bears some of the DNA of the classic redneck revenge story, in which an outlaw folk hero strikes back at the system that’s kept him and his people down for generations, it also maintains a consistent light touch. The main difference here is that, instead of bucking fascistic authority figures or other assorted lapdogs to class-divided power, the family targets a faceless corporation, represented by an octopus-esque hydraulic system that literally sucks up cash into a single consolidating box. Meanwhile, evidence of societal iniquities trickle down like raindrops, as the characters soldier on, dedicated to carrying out Jimmy’s plan even though none of them seem convinced it’ll actually work.
This is, admittedly, a fair presupposition. Soderbergh and screenwriter Rebecca Blunt unveil the entire plot slowly, as it’s happening, revealing a rough-hewn Rube Goldberg machine short on elegance but long on clever ingenuity. With no access to advanced technology, the plotters are forced to rely on practical solutions, slyly skirting the authorities and improvising a bag of Gummi Bears into an explosive device, among other gonzo shortcuts. The outcome is a seat-of-the pants scheme that’s highly dependent on coincidence, perfect timing and good fortune. That the eventual results don’t stand up to much scrutiny ends up functioning as a running gag, a fact the film entertains by turning its last section into a sustained act of self criticism, picking at plot holes and transforming its climactic FBI investigation into a joking referendum on the outlandish, utterly enjoyable potboiler that preceded it.
Once again, Soderbergh reacts to the presence of genre clichés by incorporating and subverting them, then compulsively showing his hand as a further radical gesture. By focusing on how institutional breakdown both inspires and abets this brazen act of high-wire wealth redistribution, he finds an organic outlet for a fairly ridiculous comic caper, one that sharpens the film’s satirical edge while also further grounding it in the real world. In doing so, he creates another irresistible cross-genre hybrid, a fluffy popcorn entertainment that seeds its hard kernels of darkness carefully throughout. Flirting with the grimmest elements of modern American malaise <em>Logan Lucky</em> ultimately makes good on its name, embracing an inclusive, warm-hearted tale that allows everyone to share the wealth.