It's always felt like director Steven Soderbergh subscribes to the “one for you, one for me” system of filmmaking. This likely harkens back to his independent film days, where he had the freedom to do whatever he pleased in films like Sex, Lies, and Videotape and King of the Hill.
While his talent was undeniable, once he started getting widespread acclaim for movies like Out of Sight, Traffic, and Ocean’s Eleven, it also came with the cost of having to deal with the bigger studios.
For the past 10 years, Soderbergh has gone back and forth between independent and mainstream films, and even then movies like Magic Mike have felt more like small-budget productions than his other, bigger films. The same goes for his latest, Logan Lucky, which has the aesthetics and similar storyline to the Ocean’s series, but feels much smaller because of the characters.
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is a down-on-his luck blue collar worker in West Virginia. He has a young daughter with an ex-wife (Katie Holmes) who’s moved up in the world with her new husband. Let go from a construction job at Charlotte Motor Speedway and facing an uncertain future, Jimmy hatches a plan with his one-armed bartender brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), to use his knowledge of the speedway to rob it during an upcoming event.
To help with the job, the brothers call on their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), whose job as a hairdresser belies her large skill set; Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), a convicted felon who has a gift for improvised explosions; and Joe’s two ne’er-do-well brothers.
The group’s plan for robbing the speedway runs into a number of obstacles and, just as in the Ocean’s series, the pleasure of the story mostly stems from the ways in which they overcome those impediments. You could go so far as to say that Soderbergh is plagiarizing himself, but when he executes this type of story so well, it’s hard to fault him for relying on his greatest hits.
With a heavy focus on Southern accents and the low-class ways of most of the main characters, Soderbergh and first-time writer Rebecca Blunt mine a lot of humor out of cultural differences. At the same time, the film never makes fun of them for their lot in life. In fact, there are multiple moments where it’s obvious that the middle-to-upper class is the object of ridicule, with the story being about the have-nots sticking it to the haves.
Jimmy may not be doing as well as his ex-wife, but their daughter much prefers him over her. Multiple members of the core group may act kind of wacky, but it’s Jimmy’s ex-wife’s cocksure new husband who’s the true buffoon. Other authority or upper-class figures like police officers, a prison warden, a local socialite, and speedway officials are the butt of jokes over and over again, making the “rednecks” the true heroes of the film, despite their misdeeds.
Tatum, Driver, Keough (aka Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), and especially Craig may not immediately seem like the obvious choices to play Southerners, but they each settle into their accents and mannerisms easily and convincingly. All of them, as well as most of the cast, also prove to have deft comic abilities, making the story come to life from beginning to end.
Logan Lucky may be a loose retread of Soderbergh’s earlier work, but with the added layer of social commentary and top-notch performances throughout, it easily joins the list of his best movies.