There's inborn intrigue in any movie that pulls an esteemed filmmaker out of retirement—even a retirement as brief and busy as Steven Soderbergh's. To that point, we approach his latest big screen endeavor, and his first in five years following a public avowal to never direct another feature again, wondering what it is about Logan Lucky that convinced Soderbergh he just had to make it.
The film wastes no time in presenting suggestions, scoring its opening minutes with a recording of "Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)." That Logan Lucky is the fourth 2017 release to employ the musical stylings of John Denver, and the third to do so using diegetic music, seems like no mere coincidence. With a curdling national culture underfoot, the year in film has proved itself all but inextricable from the conversation of toxic Americana, a concept on full display in Logan Lucky's every Denver tune, speeding race car, health insurance conundrum, fraying corner of the penitentiary system, harebrained robbery ploy, and garden variety crack at life in the Southeastern states.
It feels natural to assume, then, that it was the impulse to participate in this all-encompassing symposium that tore artist and veritable sociologist Soderbergh from oblivion, yielding this new tale about the ill-fit-for-this-or-any-world Logan siblings, who opt to rip off a racing venue when brother Jimmy (Channing Tatum) faces the risk of losing access to his young daughter (an adorable Farrah Mackenzie).
But as eagerly as Logan Lucky may be contributing to the discussion at large, its very motivation to be asserts itself elsewhere. It isn’t long into the film before lamentations of preexisting conditions and vacant approbation for America’s troops begin to feel incidental to what is really driving Soderbergh to tell this story: the joy of telling a story.
That very joy is ever-present throughout the unraveling of the Logans' yarn. Nearly as outlandish as the strikingly elaborate heist constituting the film's plot is any one of its handful of kooky characters, the spotlighted Logans are hardly exempt from this designation. Though not strangers to the world of crime, the Logans don't exactly double for Soderbergh's more typical casino-robbing ensemble; in fact, the siblings shoulder a reputation among their fellow born-and-bred West Virginia townies for being irrevocably cursed… and, to salt the wound, none too bright, either.
Though the de facto straight man of the bunch, Tatum’s Jimmy is delivered with an unconscionably charming doe-eyed dopiness, reining in his criminality even at his most cunning of devisions. His sister Mellie (Riley Keough) is decidedly sharper than Jimmy—and everyone else in the film, for that matter—but is rendered just as much the outcast thanks to a penchant for wide-smiling recklessness. The highlight of the trio is Adam Driver's impossibly earnest Clyde, a one-armed (excuse me, one-handed) Iraq vet and local barkeep who is as loyal to his family as he is exasperated by them.
Driver’s chief competition for the title of Logan Lucky's star player is a surprisingly merry Daniel Craig, who plays the sassy and sinister Joe Bang, a hometown boy with a knack for blowing vaults and a Tennessee Williams affect that'll melt your cochlea. With two of his own idiot brothers in tow (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid), Joe completes the Logans' rip-off team, though not the film's relentlessly impressive cast, which tosses an icy-eyed Katie Holmes, a sniveling Dwight Yoakam, a birdbrained Sebastian Stan, a stone-faced Hilary Swank, an electrically charming Katherine Waterston, and a regrettably accented Seth MacFarlane into the mix at various intervals. None of Soderbergh’s players seem satisfied to rest on the laurels of the inherent fun of a surprise cameo, each instead operating, even if only for a scene or two, as another humming piece of the meticulous machine that is Logan Lucky.
As goofy as it may play, Logan Lucky is barely shy of formal perfection. It can’t quite be said that the central heist goes off without a hitch, but Soderbergh’s execution thereof—and of all the tangential components, which include the neutralization of a bank vault, the dismantling of a vacuum tube system, and a prison-wide diversion tactic (which itself involves one of the more riotous sequences in an already laugh-heavy movie), among others—carries straight through without so much as a hiccup in pace or betrayal of its own tangled web of internal logic.
Just as impressive as Logan Lucky's technical proficiency is its winning embrace of fun. Every fiber of this bananas little world rears proof of how much of a blast Soderbergh had creating it, and none of that joyous energy is lost in transmission to the viewing audience. Riddled with jabs at masculinity, religion, big business, and the criminal justice system, it's evident that Logan Lucky has plenty on its mind. But if you ask me what's really revving the engine of Soderbergh's return to the big screen, it's not any one of its big ideas, or even all of them put together--it's the good time he has getting from beginning to end.
Rating: 4 out of 5:
Image: Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find Michael on Twitter @micarbeiter.