Transposing the milieu from glitz to grits, Steven Soderbergh’s LOGAN LUCKY does more set an intricate heist flick in the backroads of Appalachia, it also makes a sly statement about class, culture, and our preconceived notions about those two things. It also has something that most Soderbergh films lack for all their visual impact: heart.
The Logan of the title is a family infamous in Boone County, W. Virginia for being jinxed. Electrocutions, roof cave-ins, and getting blown up on the way to the airport after a tour of duty in Iraq are just a few of the misfortunes visited on that particular gene pool. The latest scions, Jimmy and Clyde, are no exception. Clyde (Adam Driver), lost his hand during that fateful trip to the airport, and Jimmy (Channing Tatum) was a star athlete set for NFL glory before blowing out his knee and losing his wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) to a car dealer. Jimmy is sanguine enough about his lot in life, content with ekeing out a living and being with his daughter. Happy, that is, until he loses his construction job at the local raceway, and finds out that his Bobby Jo is moving out of state with his daughter, Sadie (Farrah MacKenzie). Rather than just get mad, Jimmy gets to thinking, and when he does, an opportunity presents itself to make a financial killing by robbing the raceway. Unfortunately, it has an expiration date, and requires breaking the local bomb expert, the aptly monikered Joe Bang (Daniel Craig brush-cut, steely-eyed and savvy) out of jail, but only for an afternoon.
Much of the fun of stories such as these resides in the intricacies of the caper itself, and this is no exception. We are only given enough information to provide context, with a veritable cornucopia of clever twists thrown in to both delight and, oddly, instruct. The rest of the fun is the characters themselves, and that, too, finds no exception here. Jimmy is the solid center to a cast of oddballs that are varying in their degrees of endearing. Bang may talk like a twangy mountain yokel, but he’s a chemistry genius, who, in the course of the film, writes out a formula for a controlled explosion with the fluid skill of a Ph.D. and the vernacular of a yokel. Clyde dazzles an obnoxious Jheri-curled celebrity (Seth MacFarlane) by whipping up a martini with two olives and one hand before taking righteous vengeance on his condescending attitude. Their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough) sports mesh tops and fake nails that belie an encyclopedic knowledge of car mechanics and the effects of budget cuts on the local state troopers. Joe’s knuckle-dragging yet verbose brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson) have a peculiar moral code, as well as a way of talking circles that eventually form Mobius strips. A sadistic yet ineffectual prison warden (Dwight Yoakam) done in by the divergence from the novels that Game of Thrones has taken on television.
The storytelling is classic Soderbergh, lean and laconic, a style that heightens both the bone-dry humor with which the film is suffused and the suspense of the split-second timing required for the heist and the ancillary, ahem, compost, that happens. The camera is mostly static, but the compositions have a dynamic quality to their deliberate structure. It hides nothing, but neither does it reveal everything. The heist is just the start of the real meat of the film. What seemed like a light-hearted caper turns into a slightly uncomfortable evaluation of the American Dream itself, with a dash of Talmudic philosophy about the nature of happiness. The caper is a metaphor; the story is Jimmy and Sadie.
LOGAN LUCKY takes sentiment and amplifies it into a force of nature rather than a treacle tart. Sleek, sophisticated, and dedicated to the proposition that bacon makes everything better, it makes doing the right thing more important than obeying the law, and clears our conscience about enjoying it so much.