Film Review: Logan Lucky (USA, 2017) is a calculated, charming caper

It’s been a few years since director Steven Soderbergh had a feature film on the big screen but with Logan Lucky he makes a welcome return in this rollicking comedy-heist. It would be easy to boil this down to a red-neck dirty overalls wearing, whiskey swigging, pick-up truck driving version of Soderbergh’s own hit Ocean’s Eleven (and Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen) but that’s unfairly simplistic, even if it is true. The film manages to have a little more heart and some proper laugh-out-very-loudly moments that help to set it apart from the Ocean’s trilogy.

When West Virginian construction worker Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) loses his job on a technicality, he’s desperately looking for a way out of his hard-luck times. Seeking help from his monotoned one-armed bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver) he comes up with a 10-step plan to pull off a heist by robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway the weekend of the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race. However the two of them alone are unable to pull off such a huge feat, so they enlist the help of one Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) a quippy boiled-egg loving peroxide blonde hair con with a penchant for blowing up bank vaults with explosives. This trio, along with a little extra get-away-car speed demon driving from the Logan’s sister Mellie (Riley Keough), and Bang’s own slightly incompetent siblings portrayed by Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid rounds out the team. For this rag-tag bunch they’ll need to beat all the odds to pull this sting off.

The screenplay by Rebecca Blunt (who may or may not be a real person) takes us through three distinct movements. After the initial character introductions, as well as exposition with some momentary brief snippets of backstory about a “Logan curse” dialogue to provide context. We then move into the execution of the heist which in true Soderbergh fashion shows us just what we need to see. Then there’s the final act that concludes the story but drops a few little surprise nuggets that we may not have expected. The first act feels a little slow to take off but once this film gets moving it barrels along well. When I initially saw the trailer I thought this would be one of those outright comedies from start to finish but the laughs don’t really start til about mid-way. And where this film really gets to shine is by bringing this ensemble of wacky characters together to pull off something that seems impossible.

Tatum’s Jimmy and Driver’s Clyde may not look like brothers but their chemistry is convincing and endearing and comes across as a more understated performance. This works well in favour of Craig’s peppy Joe Bang who at times might steal the scenes from his co-stars but the core trio wouldn’t be any good if they all were constantly trying to one-up the other. The ensemble cast comes with a few other heavy hitters too, including a disguised curly haired mouthy Seth MacFarlane, a sleuthy FBI agent Hilary Swank, Jimmy’s snarky ex-wife Katie Holmes and a holistically health conscious NASCAR driver Sebastian Stan. These satellite characters don’t have much on-screen time, so they are a little underdeveloped but they provide additional depth and context to what is happening, and also a few extra laughs which is always welcomed.

In the current climate of blockbusters and CGI and visual effects heavy films it’s comforting to see a film that keeps it simple. Soderbergh masters his own cinematography here and there’s no fancy wizardry aside from some clever editing that keeps the shots fluid to match the pace of the story. He also balances the focus to shift easily from the characters, to the narrative of the heist arc to the scenery and back again. There’s a lot of Americana on show here which helps to give this a very grounded feel, which makes this all the more fun and enjoyable and most importantly, (almost) believable.

Logan Lucky is a calculated charming caper that brings a slice of Americana to the screen as well as plays on stereotypes in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. It’s fun and funny and even though it takes a little while to rev up, once it gets going it’s a fun ride.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 118 minutes

Logan Lucky is screening in Australian cinemas from 17 August 2017 through Roadshow Films