Did anybody think that Steven Soderbergh was really going to retire? I’ll believe it when he dies. The prolific director — known for everything from Sex, Lies and Videotapes (1989) to Erin Brockovich (2000) to Magic Mike (2012) — is as influential as he is low-key. After claiming he was “retiring” from cinema in 2013, he drifted over to TV… but not for long. This return to the big-screen is not an explosion, but a slow burn. And that’s what makes it so special.
Logan Lucky has all the elements of a Soderbergh film. It deals with class, opening on Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a football player-turned army veteran-turned construction worker getting fired from his job due to a “pre-existing condition.” It involves an improbable heist, a favorite plot device of the Ocean’s Eleven director. But most of all, it is a movie about relationships, as Jimmy recruits countless contacts, including his brother (Adam Driver), his sister (Riley Keough), and inmate Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to aid his theft.
Of course, these are far from the only characters that make an impact in this ensemble piece. Jimmy also has a daughter (Farrah MacKenzie, who has her Little Miss Sunshine moment) and an ex-wife (Katie Holmes) who has moved in with a new man (David Denman). Rebecca Blunt’s (if that is her real name…) debut screenplay is so great because each character has a full, in-depth backstory, creating people so well-developed it almost seems unnecessary. Sometimes, the characters create worlds upon themselves, like a self-righteous warden (Dwight Yoakam) or a hard-hitting detective (Hilary Swank). And sometimes they just take up space, like an awkwardly-accented millionaire (Seth MacFarlane) and a three-degrees-from-the-plot racecar driver (Sebastian Stan). On occasion, Logan Lucky uses these characters to build to deeper themes and a more layered thought. Though for the most part, the characters are just there because they are fun to be around.
While the world of Logan Lucky is a blast, chaotic yet clean, it tends to avoid realism in exchange for comic relief. This can have boisterous results, like when a prison riot turns into a Game of Thrones dialogue. But this can also serve to disconnect the audience, like the naive racial dynamics or the use of a disabled character as a sight gag. As the film progresses, it isn’t clear if we are laughing at or with the blue-collar characters. Maybe both.
Even though the structure is handed to the audience Shaun of the Dead style, Logan Lucky still keeps you on your toes. Soderbergh, ever the auteur, serves as editor and cinematographer for the film, allowing him to further manipulate space and perception. The camera is always placed in a clever location, with enough depth to capture multiple layers in the shot. Sometimes the edits jerk you out of the story, but often there is a purpose. The movie lets you know that everything is not quite as it seems, but not in a dramatic enough way to render the rest of the story useless.
But still, in the end, I was left wondering if anything in Logan Lucky actually mattered. Not in a way where I felt that my time had been wasted, but I realized that the point of the movie wasn’t about the plot. The point was inhabiting this microcosm of America, and spending time with the characters who live there. And for two hours, I had the opportunity to do just that, and I feel incredibly lucky.