When Steven Soderbergh said he was retiring from filmmaking, everyone laughed. His “retirement” consisted of directing, photographing, and editing every episode of The Knick, along with numerous other projects that someone out of the game would likely turn down.
And when he said he was returning to feature-film directing with a NASCAR-centric heist movie, we laughed again, this time for different reasons. Well, Sodie has the last laugh; though Logan Lucky is no Ocean’s Eleven, it’s nearly impossible to dislike.
The titular Logans are Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Clyde (Adam Driver) and Mellie (Riley Keough). Their family is alluded to throughout as an unlucky one; Jimmy blew out his knee on his way to a likely NFL career, Clyde lost a hand in Iraq, and Mellie is a feisty hairdresser. When Jimmy loses his construction job at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he starts to hatch a criminal scheme that—knowing Soderbergh—contains more layers than you might expect.
Along the way, Jimmy and Clyde recruit safe-blower Joe Bang (Daniel Craig ft. striking haircut) and his vaguely incompetent brothers, Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid). At first, it seems like we’re heading toward a “brain-dead hicks blow the big score” moment, where all us coastal elites can laugh at their ineptitude. But the Logans and the Blows aren’t exactly fuckups. In fact, thanks to Soderbergh’s skill at casual misdirection, the build and reveal are both organic and perfectly executed.
One of Sodie’s talents is rarely laying a foundation he won’t use. Why would Jimmy, a blue-collar guy who loves his daughter, risk everything so foolishly for one big payday? Why would his brother and sister so blindly accept his scheme? Though Soderbergh isn’t the writer—technically—he is not one to employ an ambitious plot without ensuring as many loose ends as possible are tied up at the end. In the process, he makes excellent use of another clever screenplay, the usual tip-top work from Tatum and Driver, and a wonderful score from David Holmes that doesn’t reach the heights of Ocean’s but comes close.
Logan Lucky is far from perfect; there’s a Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire scene that already feels like it was unearthed from a time capsule, and I’m not sure who told Hilary Swank to perpetually disrupt the last 20 minutes with her Clint Eastwood impression. And let’s not even talk about Seth MacFarlane, who gets third billing and could’ve—and should’ve—easily not been in the movie at all.
But for what it is, Logan Lucky proves a real treat. It’s a cruel tease to get only a brief few moments of Katherine Waterston, but she does add a bit of additional gravitas to the proceedings. And when Sodie finally unveils the “twist” with 10 minutes left, Ocean’s Eleven style, it suits these characters perfectly. When he tacks on a potentially sequel-inducing final scene, also a la Ocean’s, it still fits everyone’s motivations. Soderbergh hasn’t made a perfect movie—or anything close to it—in quite a while, but he understands genre filmmaking as well as anyone.
Aping your most popular movie is also a bold move; he doesn’t remotely shy away from the idea that this could be labeled “redneck Ocean’s Eleven” or “Ocean’s NASCAR.” That might sound lazy out of context, but instead it feels like a director who doesn’t give a shit and is happy to make use of his talents again. More than anything, it’s good to have Soderbergh back.