Director: Steven Soderbergh
Rating: 4.5 stars
Con artists are always on the clock. With a Steven Soderbergh film, the deception starts right from the opening credits. In Logan Lucky, we are told the cinematographer is Peter Andrews, that the editor is Mary Ann Bernard and that the film has been written by Rebecca Blunt. This is untrue, and these people do not exist. The film has been shot and edited by Soderbergh himself, returning to feature filmmaking after a four year 'retirement,' and Blunt is reportedly an alias for the director's wife, Jules Asner. We should, in short, not believe what we're told. There is misdirection afoot.
Such is also the case with the iconic singalong song Take Me Home, Country Roads, popularised by John Denver. As Jimmy, a construction worker tells his daughter Sadie about his favourite song, it happens to be an ode to West Virginia written by someone who had never been to West Virginia. Later, after Sadie tells him she'll be performing Rihanna's Umbrella at a local beauty pageant for children, Jimmy confuses this to mean she'll be dressing up as Rihanna. "I'm not going as Rihanna," she corrects him, patiently, in one of the film's many priceless asides. "It's not Halloween. I'm singing a song by her." This, too, as it turns out, is a lie.
This father-daughter relationship forms the core of Logan Lucky, the kind of intricate caper film that Soderbergh - who made Out Of Sight, the modern Ocean's Eleven films and The Underneath - can rightly be said to specialise in, but there is nothing lazy about this master improvising with his favourite genre. Other than the drawl, that is. This is a grass-roots heist film, with a brilliant and highly methodical plan concocted by yokels: by the folks who don't wear fancy suits and who chew their food with markedly less elegance than Brad Pitt.
The Logans - a family cursed not only with bad luck but luck infamous enough for everyone to know about - aren't doing too well, and after a Logan brother with a bad leg yells the codeword 'cauliflower' to a Logan brother with one arm, a brassy Logan sister is brought on board to hatch a highly complicated plan to rob money from right under a racetrack. I refuse to give any of the delicious plotting away, but their scheme demands timing, finesse, meticulously painted cockroaches, and also the temporary jailbreak of an explosives expert named Bang.
Here is where the film finds a different octave. Channing Tatum, an increasingly impressive actor who wears his handsomeness offhandedly, is great as Jimmy Logan, and is perfectly complemented by Adam Driver as the one handed Clyde Logan, taciturn yet enthusiastic, while Riley Keough is smashing as their hard-driving sister Mellie. Yet Logan Lucky bucks wildest after the Bangs show up: redneck fools Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid) who need moral excuses to commit crime, and their big blond brother who needs to be slipped out of jail, Joe Bang.
Played by Daniel Craig and sharing the same initials as a certain secret agent, Joe Bang is a marvellous character, a rollicking maniac who demands precision and, for a man with a mercurial temper, is surprisingly sensitive to the rage of others. Could he possibly be yellower than even his hair suggests? It is a gloriously nutty role and Craig runs into it full tilt, clearly rejuvenated by the tuxedolessness of it all. Tatum is one of today's most thrilling stars and goes from strength to strength with every wildly different performance while Driver surprises us with each film, but Logan Lucky is, without question, the best Daniel Craig movie of all time.
It may be said that heist films are all the same and, rather than duck that charge, Soderbergh lays down all the tropes here in clear view, like a magician rolling up his sleeves and showing us how he's marked the cards. This is a beautiful film, one born out of flawless comedic timing and loving attention to detail, a film where we see a painfully bad actor disguised as a painfully bad character in a rundown juke joint called The Duck Tape, served cocktails by a one-armed bartender who wears Bob Seger t-shirts.
Logan Lucky is, most crucially, an affectionate film. Soderbergh is a master of style and economy and yet this film lingers on - like the madcap work of the young Coens, or Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket - because the filmmaker is genuinely fond of these rooted characters, ever cartoonish yet never caricatures. There is a deceptive amount of heart to this heist, and the trick Soderbergh accomplishes most brilliantly is not to get the mechanics right but to get the right mechanics. The characters in this film are worthy of ballads or paperbacks or spinoffs; they deserve to be thought about instead of merely being laughed at. All the moving parts are truly moving.