August 18, 2017
August is a brutal month. It’s too damn hot to go outside. Kids are gearing up to go back to school and parents are bracing their wallets for tuition payments. That’s why, in the wake of all the highly-anticipated summer blockbusters, late August/early September is considered one of the two “dump” seasons for movies when studios tend to release the pictures they have the least amount of hope for. (The other is January/February, right after all the Oscar hopefuls have premiered and moviegoers’ bank accounts are recovering from Christmas.) But every now and then you can find some treasure amongst the trash, an unexpected, low-budget gem like Dirty Dancing, The Sixth Sense, District 9, or Straight Outta Compton.
The latest of these is Logan Lucky.
Returning from semi-retirement, auteur director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic, and [why not] The Girlfriend Experience) brings us this story of the Logan brothers, Jimmy and Clyde (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) who hail from a historically cursed West Virginia family. After Jimmy is fired from his construction job patching up sinkholes under Charlotte Motor Speedway, he and one-armed bartender Clyde team up with an explosives expert/convict appropriately named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to attempt to rob the speedway during the Coca-Cola 600.
Soderbergh has been known to take a particular genre and put his own spin on the subject matter, delivering a fresh experience that doesn’t always work, but is always original. When he took on the spy world, we got Haywire. For a different look at the virus outbreak genre, we got Contagion. For his take on sci-fi, we got Solaris. With Logan Lucky, Soderbergh gives us a new twist on the genre he had already perfected: the heist movie.
What’s cool is that in many ways, Logan Lucky is the anti-Ocean’s Eleven. There are no fast-talking planning scenes, test runs, or strategy sessions, the viewer simply gets to watch it unfold on screen as it occurs which is super fun. Ocean’s funky retro basslines are traded in for a meaty Southern Rock and blues score (being from West Virginia, Jimmy Logan is naturally a huge John Denver fan). Of course, you have the stamp of his ever-present Soderbergh style, relying on locked-down, sure-shot, masterfully-framed camera angles rather than fancy editing tricks or sweeping moves to tell the story while consistently posing genre-related questions you’ve never thought of before, like how do you put handcuffs on a one-armed man?
Interestingly, Charlotte as a city and community, comes out pretty well. Key scenes were filmed at the Charlotte Motor Speedway (despite most of production taking place in Atlanta – BRING BACK THOSE FILM INCENTIVES!). The characters naturally have plenty to mention about the Speedway, and the locally famous logo finds its way into at least dozen shots. Charlotte is conspicuously touted as the home of NASCAR, and the movie seemed to go to great lengths to distance NASCAR and the Speedway itself from any real wrongdoing. This is all the opposite of some other high profile big league adjacent movies, like Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday where the NFL actively resisted any participation. Perhaps all of this is the result of good old behind-the-scene negotiations, but hey, I live here and I’ll take it.
The first act is a slow burn with some deliberate stage-setting, and the comedic tone takes awhile to grasp; but once you have it and the heist begins, the pacing really kicks into gear and the film starts hitting on all cylinders; fast, funny, and surprisingly moving. Unlike last year’s Masterminds, which portrayed all North Carolinians and Southerners as white trash idiots, Logan Lucky realizes that all people of any particular cultural background cannot be painted with the same broad brush. The movie not only refrains from using the NASCAR subculture as a punchline, it embraces the uniqueness of it. Yes, we may talk funny, but we are also capable of creativity, ingenuity, and emotional complexity.
After all the noise and volatility of the summer blockbuster season, it’s incredibly refreshing to soak up a good, old-fashioned movie with real people, no superheroes, no CGI space battles, no zombie sharks, no Transformers. Could it have been titled Hillbilly Heist or Redneck Robbers? Sure. But it’s not. It’s called Logan Lucky, and in these dog days of summer, we’re lucky to have it.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5