Soderbergh continues his heist film saga by de-glamorizing Oceans 11 with full scale southern makeover with all the same entertainment value.
I’ll start this off by recognizing that I love Steven Soderbergh. In my opinion he is one of the more underrated directors of my lifetime. Films such as The Informat!, Contagion, and Che, are all under the radar films that I find to be some of the best in the last decade. However, it is his Oceans series that he will be remembered for. Written by Rebecca Blunt (rumored to be a pseudonym for Soderbergh himself) and aptly recognized as “Oceans 7-11”, Logan Lucky is heist sequel we have been waiting for.
Like Baby Driver from earlier this year, Logan Lucky is staffed with an all-star cast. Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Dwight Yoakam, Katie Holmes, and Hilary Swank give us characters that allow this simple story to feel real enough to be based on a true story. Jimmy Logan, played by Channing Tatum (21 Jump St) is fired from his construction job on a technicality and goes back to West Virginia to spend time with his daughter. Once he arrives, his ex-girlfriend Bobbie Jo Chapman (Katie Holmes, Batman Begins) informs Jimmy that she will be moving to Virginia with her new husband. Because Jimmy has little to no money for a custody lawyer, he and his brother Clyde (Adam Driver, The Force Awakens) hatch an idea to rob the Charlotte Moter Speedway. Just like the Oceans films, Logan Lucky follows a tried and true formula. Our main character has trouble in his life, needs to rob a vault full of money in a short window of time, recruits the best and most colorful characters to help him pull it off, and throughout the robbery the audience is only shown what Soderbergh wants you to see. This formula takes an otherwise simple plot, and gives us a chance to fall in love with our main character, suspend disbelief, and be entertained throughout the full two hours.
Although many will perceive this to be just another goofy heist film, the real message is held within just a few lines spoken during the recruitment of Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale) and his brothers. When Jimmy and Clyde convince the Bang brothers to do the leg work on the job, they are told the brothers will only participate in illegal activity if given a “moral reason”. No matter how flimsy the moral reason may be, the Bang brothers said they need it to feel good about their actions. Throughout the film and after leaving the theater, this one concept stuck with me. Jimmy, decides to rob a vault because he wants partial custody of his daughter despite only being one state away. Clyde decides to join in because he believes that helping his brother can lift the “Logan family curse” that took his arm back in Iraq. The Bang brothers join in because they are told the establishment involved treated a local woman poorly. No matter the reason, we as individuals will justify through our own moral clause. We as film viewers will also cheer the anti-hero for his or her reason for the same clause. Walter White is dying of cancer so we condone cooking meth, Dexter only kills other serial killers so we condone murder, Danny Ocean seeks revenge on the man currently dating his wife so we condone robbery. Although these are just film and television mediums, the fact is true; if we want something to fit our personal narrative we will not only accept it, but champion the outcome. From and entertainment standpoint this all makes sense. Soderbergh needs the viewer to feel bad for Jimmy, he needs us to feel remorse for Clyde, and he needs us to think Joe is a hilarious nut.
This same reverse clause needs us to cheer against the “boring old innocent victim” by giving them a quirk in their character that makes us hate them. Bobbie Jo for example is always giving Jimmy a hard time for not having a job. Max Chilblain, the fictional NASCAR driver played by Seth McFarlane (Family Guy) is shown as a jerk to both the Logan’s and his teammate. Warden Burns (Dwight Yoakam, Sling Blade) is portrayed as an incompetent warden, and FBI agent Grayson (Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby) is nothing more than an angry cop. All of these traits, I believe, were given a hyperbole on purpose by the filmmaker to show the audience that if we love someone, or have a purpose in loving something, we will do whatever it takes to justify our stance. This entire thought process is why we love our characters so much and just why this film hits so close to home, despite the fact that no one reading this has recently robbed a sports venue. This narrative also fits with the backdrop of our characters. In Oceans 11, our characters are rich, smooth talking hustlers. The Logan’s are poor, underprivileged southerners that believe in a family curse. Therefore, we care about Jimmy’s relationship with his daughter and his reason for a lifestyle change.
Once again, Soderbergh is able to take a simple story and turn it into a personal narrative that hits close to home. His films take little time on backstory and “filler” as he only shows the audience what we need to see until he feels ready to open the final door. Although I stated earlier that this film is acted so well that it at times feels like it could be based on a true story, Logan Lucky suffers from the same ills as the many formula driven films. There is very little suspense as we never get the sense that anything wrong will happen to our main characters. I found myself predicting every move in the “set up” phase of the film, and some of the jokes fell flat as the simplicity of the southern drawl at times was used as the punch line. Overall, I’m not sure even the filmmaker or the (potentially) fake screenwriter realized how deep the message could be in such a simple film. So sit back, enjoy, and take in a comedy that will leave with more than just a few laughs.
Logan Lucky, Runtime: 118 minutes, Rated: PG-13