If you’re a good law-abiding member of society, and let’s face it, that’s most of us, there’s a great big give-a-finger-to-the-law visceral thrill in watching people that are not you embark on a life of crime.
Much like apocalypse movies (my takeout food is here; now I shall watch the world end in the safety of my loungeroom), we are content to watch people metaphorically shoot the sheriff, challenge the law, break it outright even, and know that we won’t be spending the time in jail.
That’s assuming, of course, that they go to jail.
In Logan Lucky, Steven Soderbergh’s much-heralded return to moviemaking after an equally much-publicised retirement (like many creative people, he understandably couldn’t resist the allure of bringing something new to life), it’s an even bet if the protagonists will even end up in jail as they set about stealing a big wad of cash from the home of NASCAR, the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Positioned as a happy-go-lucky us-vs-them crime caper that plays on its director’s previous wrong-side-of-the-law directorial efforts by christening itself, heavily tongue-in-cheek, as Ocean’s 7-11, Logan Lucky is a sweet-natured, funny, lo-fi crime heist that focuses every bit as much on the lives of the characters as it does on the mechanics of the job at hand.
In fact, you could well argue that this time the concentration is well and truly on the people committing the crime rather the lawbreaking itself, and while it doesn’t strike as serious a pose as Baby Driver or Hell of High Water, it does place just as heavy an emphasis on why people resort to measures as drastic as a high-stakes heist to keep their heads above water.
The two brothers at the centre of the story, Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver) Logan, are not exactly “winning at life” to borrow a popular social media tagline, with the former divorced and out of work, the latter short a lower arm after two tours of duty in Iraq.
Granted there are positive elements in their life – Jimmy has an adorable, whippet-smart daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) with whom he is very close and Clyde is gainfully employed as a bartender at the amusingly-named Duck Tape, and both are close to their haidresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough), but on the grand scale of life’s successes, they are distinctly tipped away from the positive side of the scale by a considerable margin.
Enter a clever plan dreamed up by the brothers Logan (much to everyone’s surprise; they are seen as cursed by life by many and not capable of ingenious out-of-the-box thinking), and much like the Oceans film before it, Logan Lucky plays out its constituent parts with a wry touch and a clever hand that willfully obscures what’s actually going on, adding more engaging depth to the film, which is not short of narrative nous or a slow-burning hilarity.
The reason the hilarity is slowburning rather than out-and-out slapstick or sitcom-ready silly, is that Soderbergh spends a good deal of time helping us to understand why these characters are the way they are, why they choose to undertake this risky route to financial wellbeing and not drawing the humour from belittling them or patronising them.
Yes they live in a dirt poor part of West Virginia where Glen Campbell’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is a unifying hymn of love and solidarity for a people who pretty only have each other, but Soderbergh zeroes in on their willingness to do what it takes to survive, and the wit and dark humour they employ while they’re doing it.
Sure there are funny references to “The Google” and “all the Twitters”, that suggests people not fully plugged into the new digital economy, but these observations are never wantonly mean or nasty and Logan Lucky always treats its characters as reasonably fully-formed, authentic human beings with needs and desires any of us can identify with.
Even the distinctly cartoonish Joe Bang (Daniel Craig in fine redneck form), the explosives expert for the heist, who is busted out of and then back into jail in one day in one of the film’s most amusing sequences – the Game of Thrones scene mid fake riot is worth the price of admission alone – and his brothers Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid) who, for all their quirks and foibles, are credited with actual skills and street smarts.
Socially self-aware? Renaissance men? Not even close but what they do, they do well, and Logan Lucky is an infinitely more interesting film by letting the humour spring from their not quite on point views on life than the far too-easily-exploitable flaws in their character or lifestyles (which would have been easy fodder for a less sophisticated screenplay and less talented director).
As a consequence, you take the characters seriously; they may not have access to life’s full arsenal of EQ or IQ (though they’re not far off the mark at times), but they’re not idiots either, and they’re quite likable to boot, so you want them to succeed, and not just because you want to viscerally stick it to the man.
Pop culture savvy – that makes sense given who the director and screenwriter (word is Rebecca Blunt does not exist and is, in fact, Soderbergh; no one knows for sure) – funny and possessed of easy charm that belies the intensity of its characters besieged lives, Logan Lucky is at once a celebration of the enduring idea that anything is possible in these here United States and that many times it is not, an appealing concept trodden under by the inequalities and dog-eat-dog nature of the nation.
Balancing these two ideas actually works very well, as does the film’s unwillingness to poke fun at the southern milieu it inhabits in favour of celebrating the strong sense of community and support that is commonplace in places with not much else to lean on.
It’s refreshing in many ways to see a filmmaker throw so many social issues into the mix without diluting the humour, and vice versa, and so, while you will be laughing, and laughing often, at the oneliners delivered with a straight face, you’ll be also be savouring the well thought-out and beautifully articulated musings on social deprivation and how it shapes a person’s and a community’s character.
Logan Lucky is intelligent humour of the highest order, and while it might not always build up a full speed of steam, particularly where you expect it to – it is happy, mostly winningly, to idle along and play out its plot with admirable sangfroid – it is never unlikable, always very funny and never less than clever, giving us a chilled heist movie that nevertheless has a lot of important things hanging portentously in the balance, even serving up an ending that ties everything together neatly, and yet, quite possibly, and appealingly, does not.
Welcome back Steven Soderbergh – Logan Lucky is proof that retirement is not for everyone and we should thank the cinema gods for that.