It has been four years since Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from film, and while he made a splash on TV with The Knick, it is great to have him back in theatres. With Logan Lucky, Soderbergh re-vitalizes the genre that made him famous (Ocean’s 11-12-13), and marries it with his later socio-political ventures.
The opening scene of Logan Lucky introduces us to Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) and his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), as they are working on the engine of a car. John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads is playing on the radio, while Jimmy explains its origins and the meaning the song carries for him. It is a short and simple scene that lets us understand Jimmy’s motivation immediately. Only a few minutes later, Jimmy is let go from his construction work on account of a “pre-existing condition he failed to report,” and on top of that, his ex-wife (Katie Holmes) and her new husband (David Denman) are planning to move cross-state with his daughter. Thus, Jimmy and his one-armed bartender brother, Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) decide to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day. They enlist the help of their sister Mellie Logan (Riley Keough), the currently incarcerated explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his two hillbilly brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson).
Logan Lucky feels like a natural return to feature films for Soderbergh, not only for its obvious parallels to the movies that made him famous, but also in that it continues his examination of a post-financial crisis America. It is what he looked at in the marvelously humanizing escort-portrait The Girlfriend Experience (2009), and he camouflaged it wonderfully in leather pants, topless studs and male bonding with Magic Mike (2012). Logan Lucky doesn’t feel as politically charged throughout, or at the very least it isn’t as apparent on a surface level, but it is unmistakably there. Soderbergh’s approach is to not only show us contemporary America but to empathize with it and the characters he creates. His characters are undeniably real – whether you see yourself, someone you know or someone you’ve seen in the news – and they are wholly their own. Each and every character in Logan Lucky feels authentic to themselves and the situations they find themselves in, be it Jimmy as a blue-collar worker laid off when he needs money the most; Clyde as a man whose sacrifice for his country goes unappreciated and even mocked; the side-character of Sylvia (wonderfully played by Katherine Waterston), a on-the-road doctor who administers a vaccine to Jimmy free of charge; or just the hillbilly brothers whose need for a moral cause to participate in the heist is both funny and admirable in its own way. It is a continuation of Soderbergh’s examinations of what circumstance can force someone into, and with Magic Mike and The Girlfriend Experience, it works as an interesting unofficial trilogy.
Logan Lucky isn’t just this, however. It is also classic Soderbergh, and his unmistakable signature is everywhere. From the idiosyncratic touches of each and every character to the slick and stylish rhythm he mastered in Ocean’s 11-12-13. The humor is fast and loose throughout, and everyone in the cast is perfectly matched to their characters. Channing Tatum is caring and well-meaning; Adam Driver continues to prove he is one of the most interesting actors of his generation; Daniel Craig delivers an absolute nut-job of a performance; and Riley Keough is so confident, self-assured and mature that she deserves her own story. In an age of the tired and trite ensemble superhero movie, it is a delight to witness a movie where you can feel the chemistry between each and every member of the cast. The movie flows and goes like you’d expect from a new heist film from Soderbergh, and while it does little to innovate the genre, it is never boring or uninspired. If one is to say the movie goes down a list marking checkboxes, it does so with a multicolored crayon, because the familiarity is nurtured by absurdity that has not been seen before – the demands of a small-scale prison riot shows Soderbergh’s finger firmly on the pulse of nerd culture – and it is obvious that the entire team has had a blast doing this movie, which translates well into the theatre experience.
When Soderbergh announced his retirement from retirement it made most people excited, and with Logan Lucky, he did not disappoint. It is a slick and hilarious heist-ensemble that works wonders as the Summer-Popcorn-Flick of the year, but it is also a movie with a lot on its heart. It doesn’t demand you pay attention to it’s commentary, but for Soderbergh to return with a movie like this is immensely important at this very moment in time, and he is more than welcome back to the big screen.