The advertising for “Logan Lucky” includes the advertising slogan, “See how the other half steals,” and much of the publicity emphasizes the picture is directed by the filmmaker responsible for the popular heist comedy “Ocean’s 11.” The suggestion is that “Logan Lucky” is a sort of distaff “Ocean’s 11,” featuring unsophisticated rural Southerners instead of glib and glamorous Las Vegas wiseguys.
And while that description is not exactly inaccurate, it’s also not quite to the picture itself. The difference is in the picture’s sense of warmth: Far from satirizing his cast of characters, director Steven Soderbergh actually embraces them, and in the process creates a oddly heartwarming comedy in which the audience finds itself rooting against the traditional good guys, in favor of a demographic which usually doesn’t receive much of a break in the popular American lexicon.
“Logan Lucky” details the adventures of an unemployed West Virginia construction worker who, at the end of his financial rope, hatches a scheme to rob the massive Charlotte Motor Speedway during the popular annual Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race. And in order to carry off the heist, the would-be master criminal needs to recruit the most colorful group of accomplices this side of Mayberry…or “Deliverance.”
Written by Rebecca Blunt—thought to be a pseudonym for either the director’s wife or Soderbergh himself—the script renders most of the characters underwritten, incomplete, and lacking in motivation. But instead of being a detriment to the picture, the absence of character complexity works in the movie’s favor, allowing a remarkably talented group of players the additional space to inhabit their characters more fully.
Led by the baleful and laconic Channing Tatum as the unemployed and desperate Jimmy Logan, some of the actors invest their roles so successfully that you’ll have trouble recognizing even a few of the more familiar faces.
Among those who all but vanish into their characters are Sebastian Stan, from the Marvel “Captain America” series of pictures, as a member of the Logan Gang, and country music legend Dwight Yoakum as a prison warden. And even two-time Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank turns up relatively late in the game, as a straight-as-an-arrow FBI agent trying to crack the credibility-straining heart of the caper.
In the meantime, the entire cast works together beautifully. Particularly noteworthy are Adam Driver, sporting an accent which leans more toward Missouri than West Virginia as Jimmy’s partially-disabled Gulf War veteran brother Clyde, and a ridiculously funny Daniel Craig as the gang’s demolitions expert, the appropriately-named Joe Bang. If the usually dour and humorless Craig is capable of this kind of relaxed and engaging comedy performance, it’s no wonder he reportedly feels restricted by his association with the phenomenally popular James Bond series of pictures.
It’s tough to not like a picture in which part of the main character’s unlikely motivation as a criminal is to be a better parent to his daughter. And despite the more colorful, exciting, and sometimes even nail-bitingly suspenseful elements of the plot, the emotional climax of “Logan Lucky” is actually the daughter’s serenading her father with an off-key rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road.” Better yet, the scene works.
“Logan Lucky” depends somewhat on the audience’s playing along with its unlikely scenario from the first scene until the picture’s enormously satisfying conclusion, but that’s easy to do in a picture as friendly and eager-to-please as this one. The last scene seems to leave a door open for a sequel. Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s 11” spawned “Ocean’s 12” and “Ocean’s 13.” Let’s hope that “Logan Lucky” can also spread around some of that good fortune.