In 2010, Steven Soderbergh, the mind behind Ocean’s 11, Magic Mike, and Out of Sight, announced he was retiring as a filmmaker. That stance cracked a bit when he produced The Knick for Showtime, and broke fully when her returned for this year’s Logan Lucky. Auteur director’s like Soderbergh will often announce their retirement, and then get lured back in by an idea they simply can’t shake. Quinten Tarrantino recently stated that he’ll be done after his tenth feature, and Hayao Miyazaki is coming out of retirement for another collaboration with Studio Ghibli. It’s exciting that Soderbergh had an idea so good it lured him out of retirement, but it’s a shame this is the movie he delivered.
Logan Lucky is a film right up Soderbergh’s alley: A heist film set in the south with an ensemble crew of quirky characters, and his fingerprints are all over it. Not only did her direct, but he also shot it as Peter Andrews, wrote as Rebecca Blunt, and edited as Mary Ann Bernard. You’d be forgiven for thinking Soderbergh is returning to the same well from where we got the Ocean’s trilogy, at one point, a news broadcast even dubs the heist “Ocean’s 7/11.” This sort of self-refferential, dry humor permeates the film and is classic Soderbergh. This isn’t a comedy, but there are dozens of laugh out loud moments that had me in stiches.
Channing Tatum stars as the titular Jimmy Logan, and he’s great as this character. Tatum’s career has been all over the place. He started as a throw away “hot guy who dances” in Step Up, and couldn’t seem to find anything that a good fit afterwards. Then 21 Jump Street happened and he found his stride with comedy. In Logan Lucky, he gets to utilize his impressive comedy chops, but also deliver some genuine emotional beats. Tatum has, at times, been among an unfortunate group of actors like Brad Pitt and Zac Effron, known for being good looking, and thus, overlooked for their talent. In this role, however, there’s no overlooking his incredible talent, he’s fantastic.
Portraying Jimmy’s brother is Adam Driver as Clyde Logan. Driver is the standout member of the cast, as his character has a perfect mix of quirk and charm. A veteran who lost his forearm and hand (he makes it very clear he did not lose his whole arm), Driver gives a subtle performance that still manages to be overflowing with charisma and comedy. Clyde is a man of few words, but when he decides to open his mouth, Driver fills each line with so much personality. In his performance, there is no Kylo Ren, no Adam from Girls, Driver completely disappears into this role.
This being a heist movie, Soderbergh includes a cast of various eccentric characters. Riley Keough plays Clyde and Jimmy’s rebellious sister. Daniel Craig gives an delightfully fun turn as Joe Bang, along with Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson, Joe’s two bumbling brothers. Kathrine Waterston is completely wasted in a role that simply doesn’t need to exist, but she’s fine enough in it. But if there’s a supporting actor to take note of, its Farrah McKenzie. As Jimmy’s daughter, McKenzie is the emotional anchor of the film, and she has such a wonderful chemistry with Tatum. What Soderbergh does so well is make every character feel like they have more to them that we don’t see. With each side character who came on screen, I wanted to know more about who they are and where they came from.
There is one character, however, that I did not want to see more of: Seth McFarland. McFarland plays an Australian energy drink mogul, and he is by far my least favorite part of the entire film. I mentioned above how the comedy often had me belly laughing, but every single line he delivers falls flat and ruined each scene he was in. Why was he doing an accent? What point did his character serve? There was no purpose for him to be featured in the story, and the attempt at having a funny side character went about as wrong as it could have.
Another big issue I have with Logan Lucky is the way it’s edited. The cuts in this film are extremely distracting as there isn’t any consistency to them. Sometimes, Soderbergh with let a shot hang for a noticeably long time, other times, he’ll smash cut away before a character is finished delivering their line. This would be effective and effective approach if these styles were paired respectively with slower and faster paced parts of the film, but there was no rhyme or reason to why he chose to cut when he did. The editing came dangerously close to ruining some stellar performances. At one point a shot holds on a reaction from Riley Keough for a few second too long and she clearly breaks character. It’s a shame, this film has such beautiful cinematography, but the editing makes it an unenjoyable experience to watch.
Matching the confusing edits, is the way this story is structured. Soderbergh does a good job at laying the emotional stakes of the film: Jimmy wants to rob the motor speedway so he can give his daughter a better life. But there is very little foundation laid for anything else. In almost every great heist movie, there’s a scene somewhere in the middle where the ring leader details out their plan. This is done so that not only so the audience can understand what our characters are planning, but so that when the heist goes wrong (as it inevitably will), the viewer can experience that sinking feeling of anxiety, along with those pulling off the heist. But no such scene exists in Logan Lucky, meaning when the heist went wrong, I didn’t have a frame of reference to know what it should have looked like.
The structure of the film is disorienting, watching along, I had no idea where the story was going, and not in a good way. There isn’t a natural flow of the story, it just goes, which undercut the emotional and dramatic tension of what was happening. I can only imagine what it would have felt like if Soderbergh had laid ground work for each situation, how much more invested I would have been, and how much more payoff I would have experienced by the end.
The best example I can think of is it feels like Soderbergh is telling a story to an audience who already know the characters. When I tell my brother a story about my dad, I don’t need to explain who my dad is, that would just be redundant. It feels like Soderbergh assumes we know who these characters are because he knows them so well. It may have started as an attempt to treat the audience with respect, but the example of “show, don’t tell” went a step to far and left me confused throughout.
Logan Lucky is a fantastic character piece imprisoned behind questionable decisions. There’s a truly great film hiding somewhere, but it seems to have been lost in the process of script revisions and awkward edits. Spectacular performances and wonderful comedic timing aren’t enough to save it from a disjointed viewing experience.
Rating: 2.5 – Fine