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Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky is a heist comedy from Steven Soderbergh. It features an all-star cast comprised of such talents as Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank, Katherine Waterston, and Sebastian Stan. If that’s not enough for you to buy a ticket, I don’t know what to tell you. But I’m going to try and elaborate anyway.

The stage is comprised of two separate states, going over and back across the West Virginia/North Carolina border. Our plot focuses primarily on the Logan siblings, played by Tatum, Driver, and Keough. Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a miner who got laid off the instant that corporate found a convenient excuse: A bad knee that makes Jimmy a “liability issue”. And like any disgruntled ex-worker with a daughter and an ex-wife (respectively played by Farrah McKenzie and Katie Holmes) to support, Jimmy decides to get revenge by robbing his old workplace.

The kicker: At the time of his firing, Jimmy was digging to fix sinkholes under the Charlotte Motor Speedway. And the whole country is about to bring that place a metric fuckton of cash for the Coca-Cola 600.

Driver plays Clyde Logan, a bartender who lost his left hand while serving overseas. Keough plays Mellie Logan, a local beautician who pitches in to help Jimmy’s daughter with her youth pageants (yes, the movie goes there). Both of them agree to help Jimmy steal millions of dollars from NASCAR, but there’s something else they need: A whole ‘nother family of criminal redneck fuckwits.

Joe Bang (Daniel Craig in a career-defining performance) is a veteran bank robber with the explosive know-how to break into any vault. Trouble is, he’s on the tail end of a prison sentence and he won’t get out in time for the heist. So the Logan siblings have to find a way of breaking Joe Bang out of prison in broad daylight, taking him across state lines to pull off the heist, and then get him back into prison, all without anyone noticing he was ever gone.

Go back and read that last sentence again. Try and make sense of it. I’ll wait.

To round out our crew of thieves — and to give him some measure of influence on the outside while he’s still behind bars — Joe Bang insists on recruiting his own brothers. That would be the thoroughly brain-dead duo played by Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid. (Yes, both actors have relatives you might have heard of.)

So what we’ve got here are two angry and impulsive sets of siblings, working together in a tenuous alliance. It makes for an interesting dynamic, as the siblings trade insults amongst themselves, but take it as a personal insult if anyone else insults his brother. We also get a few scenes of someone fucking up, and Jimmy looks to Joe (or vice versa) like “Can you please talk to your brother and get his shit together?” It’s a neat way to bring a bit of heart to the film and a reason to emotionally invest in the story.

That said, it’s not like our characters are complete idiots, and that actually tends to be a significant problem. See, the plot can only work if these characters are bona fide criminal geniuses, and the comedy can only work if these characters are southern blue-collar nincompoops. So, how seriously are we really supposed to take these characters?

The issue is compounded by the background players and supporting characters, all of whom are oblivious morons. Notable examples include the health-conscious driver played by Sebastian Stan, the rich asshole played by Seth MacFarlane (and sweet mercy, is it satisfying to watch MacFarlane get the shit beaten out of him), and Dwight Yoakam as a delusional prison warden with a nasty habit of trying to shape reality through denial. The one possible competent exception is the FBI agent played by Hilary Swank, but her character proves to be so hopelessly ineffectual that Swank is left with nothing to do but chew scenery. In fact, there are quite a few characters — those played by Sebastian Stan and Katherine Waterston come immediately to mind — who could have been cut from the picture entirely with no ill effect.

Yet for all of that, the humor is so beautifully constructed and the heist is so diabolically clever that there was very clearly a sense of intelligence here. The whole time I was watching this movie, it felt like there was something going on here that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. And after reading a couple of other reviews, I think I might have it.

The film only works if these southern boys turn out to be smarter and more capable than anyone realizes. This notion that even if stereotypical rednecks look stupid and act stupid, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are stupid. Moreover, the way this heist is laid out, it could only have ever worked if the government officials, the wealthy CEOs, the private security workers, and everybody else involved turned out to be hopelessly oblivious in their arrogance. It certainly could be a series of potential plot holes powered by thin characterization… or it could be that the Logan siblings knew that everyone up top would keep themselves in denial to preserve the status quo, they knew that everyone would think them too stupid to even consider such a scheme, and they were counting on it the whole time!

Thus we have a subtle yet omnipresent statement about how those of the upper- and middle-classes are nowhere near in control as we think we are, while those of the working class in so-called “Middle America” have a more thorough and intuitive understanding of how things really (don’t) work. I can’t say for a certainty that this was 100 percent intentional on the part of the filmmakers, and it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. But if you’re able to find it, you’ll gain a whole new appreciation for how smart and subversive this movie truly is.

Everyone in the cast is excellent, each delivering a magnetic and memorable performance that advances the comedy nicely. Hell, there are some cases — particularly with regard to Katherine Waterston and Hilary Swank — in which the character would have been totally worthless if it was anyone else cast to play them. Daniel Craig deserves a ton of credit for parlaying his established persona into a professional badass with a comically short fuse (so to speak). Likewise, Channing Tatum parlays his finely-tuned charisma and comic timing into a fantastic male lead. And of course we can’t forget Adam Driver — an actual Marine who got sidelined due to an injury — who brings a ton of heart to the role of a disabled veteran.

The screenplay is marvelous from start to finish, which makes it all the more frustrating that I don’t know who to credit for that. Yes, the screenplay is credited to “Rebecca Blunt”, but there’s no other evidence that such a person exists. And it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that Soderbergh or his colleagues used a pseudonym.

Moving on to miscellaneous notes, kudos to the camerawork and editing for keeping everything clear as to who was doing what at any given time during the heist. What’s even more impressive is that the filmmakers somehow showed enough to give the illusion of showing us everything when there was in fact room for additional big reveals later on. That said, the pacing was only good up to a point. While the film has a fantastic “wow” finish, the preceding half-hour is more or less a holding pattern. It was disappointing (until the very, very end, at least) to have a fast-paced 90 minutes only to spend the third act wondering why the hell the movie didn’t end with the heist.

Also, the soundtrack leans very heavily on John Denver. Between this movie, Free Fire, and Alien: Covenant, I have no idea why John Denver has suddenly gotten to be so popular. Not that I’m complaining, you understand (my dad is a lifelong fan and John Denver is among the bands and artists he raised me on), but it seems so random.

Logan Lucky is a deceptively intelligent satirical heist comedy, but I’m still not entirely sure if that’s by design or accident. It is a disappointment that some potentially great actors are wasted on dead-end characters, the plot lags in the third act just as everything should be ramping up in a huge way, and the whole “child pageant” subplot pisses me off on principle. All of that aside, this is on the whole a wickedly funny comedy with a compelling central heist, and its treatment of southern “good ol’ boys” is refreshingly authentic and modern in a way we don’t see very often.

Yes, it’s contrived and implausible in places, but it’s the rare heist caper that isn’t. I’m still not entirely sure that I completely get the movie, but I sure as hell enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

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