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It generally irks me when artists announce a retirement, only to return soon after. LCD Soundsystem reuniting six years post their farewell concert Shut Up and Play the Hits does make the documentary about the show seem less emotional and more corporate. However, having Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven) back from hiatus is good news. Extremely versatile and stylish, he’s a cinematic alchemist – taking scripts which could be mediocre (Haywire, Magic Mike, Side Effects, a freaking Tarkovsky remake!) and turning them into gold, a trend his latest Logan Lucky continues.
Soderbergh is prolific, often making two movies a year. He reportedly only shoots one or two takes and generally keeps his films very tight. This speediness shows in Logan Lucky, through its infectiously zippy pace, a blessing for his tale (Rebecca Blunt is credited as a writer but is rumored to be a pseudonym for the director) of a heist taking place during a Nascar race.
Late period Soderbergh muse Channing Tatum stars as Jimmy Logan, a former teenage superstar whose life has fallen into disrepair. Divorced, poor and unemployed due to a work injury, his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) thinks its part of a family curse – the same one which may have played a part in the latter losing his hand serving in Iraq. Desperate and eager to disprove the theory, the duo – along with their infinitely smarter sister Mellie (Riley Keough) – plan to rob a motor-sports complex during a huge race. To do this though, they have to enlist the help of convict and explosives expert Joe Bang (an unrecognisable bleach blond Daniel Craig).
In some respects, the actual mechanics of the heist are presented a little chaotically (it does all add-up upon reflection, I would argue). However, that’s not really the point as evident by the way Soderbergh deliberately witholds vital information about the robbery from the viewer. He’s clearly more interested in watching people performing an intricate task – the way the camera stays on Clyde as he makes a cocktail with one hand, how it lingers on Mellie as she rifles through suitcases and car boots for heist tools. There’s never a dull moment in Logan Lucky because the movie is constantly in motion. Even if the viewer isn’t sure exactly what is happening, they enjoy the ride.
It’s funny to see Soderbergh apply the craft he learned making the Ocean’s Trilogy to this scrappier, less glamorous tale of blue-collar criminals. Yet, there’s more to the comedy of the film than just following these bumbling robbers. There’s a self-awareness at play in Logan Lucky, both to Soderbergh himself (a news report refers to the heist as Ocean’s 7/11) and to the genre (something evident by an early dig at The Fast & Furious franchise). Most of the humour in the movie derives from taking things viewers have seen in films of a similar ilk and turning them just slightly on their ear into absurdism e.g. jelly bean bombs.
The ensemble cast is phenomenal. Tatum and Keough are clear movie stars – actors who can hold your attention even in the most minor moments. Craig is having so much fun, breaking away from the always perfectly quaffed and suited 007 to play this down and dirty criminal. It’s great to see Driver return to his comedic roots, delivering this hilarious southern drawl I could listen to on repeat. Meanwhile, there’s performers on the fringes of the story – Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterson, Sebastian Stan, Dwight Yoakam, Hilary Swank and perhaps most notably Seth McFarlane as a cockney Brit – all perfectly cast and tailing the movie off in unexpected directions for the one or two scenes they have.
In lesser hands, the movie could have been just laughing at poor white people. However, the lead actors’ skill in eliciting empathy and the script’s surprisingly delicate emotional beats (the relationship between Jimmy and his daughter is subtly powerful) transcend this. Soderbergh likes all these characters and we do too. While one could perhaps accuse the director in the past of being more technically brilliant than emotionally, this is an answer to the critics – perhaps a sign of the filmmaker entering a new period of his career. I look forward to what’s next.
Logan Lucky is in cinemas from Friday 25th August.