In Logan Lucky, Steven Soderbergh’s much lauded return to (theatrical) filmmaking, there’s a scene roughly halfway through in which three nascar commentators question the return of a driver (Sebastian Stan) who has returned from a self-imposed sabbatical from racing. These commentators, led by Jeff Gordon himself, question if the time off has made this driver irrelevant, outdated, if he’s up to the pressure of such a high-profile return. It’s a scene swollen with meta-humor often found in a Soderbergh film, and one that, maybe in light of the critical response of Logan Lucky and the praised heaped upon its director, Soderbergh himself saw the self-deprecating irony of it.
While Logan Lucky holds significance as the “return” (though he never really left) of Steven Soderbergh, it is by no means the parting of the cinematic heavens some seem to assign to it. It is, however, a highly enjoyable piece of entertainment, and one that Soderbergh seems capable of making with his eyes closed in between sips of Singani 63. And I’m sure that’s exactly how he intended it.
Logan Lucky finds Soderbergh reuniting once again with Channing Tatum, swapping out the baby oil and tear-away pants for Carharts and Levis in this hayseed heist film set against the backdrop of a major Nascar race. Tatum plays one of three Logan siblings whose family may or may not be cursed with bad luck. When an undisclosed injury forces his employer to cut him loose he recruits his one-armed brother (Adam Driver), his sister (Riley Keough), and a hilarious Daniel Craig as explosives expert Joe Bang, to turn that bad luck around by pulling a heist at the very race track he was working at. Logan Lucky lulls you with its laconic plot of simple-minded folk planning the heist of a lifetime before the film shifts gears, ratcheting up the execution of Jimmy Logan’s plan while also teasing us with all the seemingly unforeseen details that a blue-collar construction worker and his one-armed brother might’ve overlooked. The joy of a film like Logan Lucky, in the hands of a filmmaker like Soderbergh, is that what you think you, or the characters, know is really only what the filmmakers want you to know, the pleasure of Logan Lucky is gasping for air when it seems like the plan is all but blown, only to be rewarded with the satisfaction of a well-executed heist, and heist film!, before seeing our heroes regroup to celebrate their success.
If all this sounds like familiar territory for Soderbergh and Co it’s because it is. Soderbergh is no stranger to the heist genre; first adapting the noir film Criss Cross into The Underneath with Peter Ghallager before setting the bar for cool-as-a-cucumber, twisty heist films with the Oceans Trilogy. For those hoping to find similarities between Logan Lucky and Ocean’s trilogy may find themselves sorely missing some of the effortless cool of the first but Logan Lucky rewards its viewer with plenty of visual sleight of hand and dry humor more in keeping with the middle sibling of the Oceans films (and my personal favorite of the three).
Years ago, as history would tell it, while in the onslaught of awards season buzz and prestige picture cacophony Soderbergh found himself exhausted after directing and shooting the two-part biopic on Che Gueverra starring Benicio Del Toro. He’d spent the better part of 2007 arduously making the film, one a modest budget, with a modest crew, on a digital camera that was still in beta mode in the sweltering jungles of Puerto Rico, Mexico and Spain. Apparently all for naught. The film, while well received critically, ended up all but overlooked during the awards season and – even worse – failed to connect with mass audiences. The failure of Che ultimately, along with a few other setbacks, lead to Soderbergh’s highly publicized “retirement” from making movies.
But he never really left.
Reading interviews with the director, even perusing his own musings at his website (www.extension765.com) you get the sense that Mr. Soderbergh is a filmmaker driven to aim for the heights and accolades of his cinematic forebears while at the same time, scowling and snarking at the slightest hint of reverence or prestige labeling. Gone are the days, it would seem, where Mr. Soderbergh delivers us a one-two punch like Traffic and Erin Brockovich. Instead it seems Mr. Soderbergh is completely at peace with delivering populist entertainment for the sake of audience enjoyment and with Logan Lucky he’s done exactly that.