A low-budget country-bumpkin NASCAR heist film from Steven Soderbergh? The creator of Ocean’s Eleven-Twelve-Thirteen and director of such great films as Out of Sight (you should check that out, if you haven’t) and Traffic had me at Daniel Craig with a squeaky country voice. I’m not entirely sure it takes a lot to entertain me these days.
In all seriousness, Logan Lucky is a unique film. Not because of it’s Ocean’s Eleven-lite heist story, rather how it was made, written by a ghost-writer that no one has supposedly officially met, and unique on how it was distributed, which was by Soderbergh’s own company, Fingerprint Releasing.
The latter of the two unique flowers was ambitious as distributing a film without the help of a major studio’s backbone was thought nearly impossible. It certainly was a risk on a $29 million dollar budget and essentially saved boatloads of money cutting the distributing costs basically out of the mix. What this meant, though, was a smaller theatrical release net and, again, a bigger risk of not making the money back that was put into it. Thankfully, the film did okay at the box office with a $44 million dollar return and is probably going to get even more back with home video/digital sales, and deservedly so. The more support this distribution structure gets, the more it will become common practice and the more budgets will shrink as a result. Let those budgets shrink!
Anyway, enough about the production history, let’s talk movie.
Hoping to reverse a ‘curse’ that’s hung over his family for generations, Jimmy Logan (Tatum) hatches a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’S biggest race of the year. He convinces his bartender brother Clyde (Driver) and hairdresser sister Mellie (Keough) to help him pull everything off–but first they have to break the bomb-maker Joe Bang (Craig) out of jail in broad daylight. Academy Award® winner Hilary Swank plays a no-nonsense FBI agent determined to bring the Logans to justice and keep them from racing away with the loot in this high speed caper from director Steven Soderbergh.
Logan Lucky is a fun film that really does have the directorial fingerprint of Soderbergh’s talent, where he knows how to shape his actors into their characters, while maintaining a sense of fun and innocence with delivery. The film never takes itself serious, yet the massive amount of big-name players involved would say otherwise (Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, Hilary Swank, Daniel Craig and more). As it stands, the film is filled full of fun, wacky characters and simply asks the viewer to enjoy the ride, rather than to invest too much into the journey. A lot of great films do the same, such as Mad Max: Fury Road and Thor: Ragnarok, where going along for the journey and being entertained without much effort put into it are the prime focus. I refer to those as Saturday movies, where you can watch them basically at any time on a lazy Saturday and feel entertained over and over again (also see Goonies for details).
The first act sets everything up perfectly. You are introduced to all the major players in the story. We get Jimmy Logan, an honest single father trying to raise his daughter right, while trying to stay ahead of the curve with life and keep a steady income to survive. Unfortunately, life has other plans and Logan, and his family curse of constant roadblocks in front of their lives’ success, finds himself without a job as a construction worker due to a past injury he never divulged to the company that hired him. Out of a job and determined to find a way out of the hole he has dug for himself, and looking to debunk/dump the family curse, begins to concoct a plan with his one-armed ex-vet brother, Clyde, and his sister Mellie to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway and make their lives better. The end of the first act is the beginning of the planning period for the heist.
Simplicity is the reoccurring theme here with the first act, and the rest of the film, and you’ll either appreciate it or you’ll hate it. Regardless, you have to respect it because the story and its characters aren’t trying to be more than they were written, which in my opinion is brilliant and consistent. The story setup is straight and to the point. It briefly sets up the desperation of Jimmy Logan and all the obstacles he has had to overcome. From a derailed football career due to injury that led to a bad marriage and eventual divorce — he has seen it all. His luck with life leads him to progress from beaten fool to someone trying to take control of his own destiny, but without hurting anyone else in the process. It’s a great story setup and introduces well-written characters that push it along.
Speaking of characters, I love Tatum’s Jimmy, as he seems an honest and down-to-earth person. His opposite, and more tightly wound counterpart in Adam Driver’s Clyde is also quite good. He emits a sense of family closeness, while trying to recover from his own nightmares. Both characters do a great job playing off each other and both truly feel like they would be real brothers. The casting choices for this film was well done.
Anyway, the first act is constructed meticulously and absolutely is solid with delivery. Nothing seems out of place, nothing seems more than it should be, rather it all seems well-constructed. I love first acts like this.
The second act is dedicated to planning and finding a way to get explosion specialist Joe Bang out of prison for a day to help the Logans out. The delivery of how the plan is going to go down, the execution of the plan and the eventual break-out of Bang is nothing short of spectacular. This is the same construction as the middle of Ocean’s Eleven when everyone is gathering up material to execute the heist against Terry Benedict, where the setup happens in pieces, quickly and promises a resolution/explanation in the third act, while also keeping some cards close to the chest that you can’t see. By the end of the second act you’ll think the characters have gone off the deep end and failed in their attempt to rob the NASCAR race, but all is not what it seems.
The second act is basically a fun 80s montage minus the music. Every little piece of the puzzle is introduced, but Soderbergh and the film’s mystery writer don’t necessarily show you how it all comes together. They do give hints of potential trip-ups and characters that could ultimately collapse the entire heist, like Bang’s idiot country brothers that actually turn out to be smart, but they joyfully leave you hanging/hankering for the third act for resolution, which you get. Trust in the third act, folks, as it shouldn’t fail. Before we move on, let me just point out how delightful the prison scenes are in this film. Particularly delightful is Dwight Yoakam’s Warden Burns, who is one hilarious character. While he doesn’t have a lot of barring on the movie, other than one single piece, his delivery and injection of dead-panned humor is priceless. Kudos to Yoakam.
In true Digitalchumps fashion, we won’t dive into the details of act three. Just know that it creates an unseen issue, which doesn’t make sense at first, but comes together quite well by the very end. It also leaves the door open for another film, which I hope Soderbergh seriously considers before going back into retirement.
Overall, Logan Lucky is a fun film that brings a story you’ve seen before, but with a simplified development and delivery. It’s dumb fun and definitely a feel-good film made with good writing, superb direction and an outstanding cast that believed in the production. Check it out during the holiday break, as it is worth it.
On the special features side of the equation, you get deleted scenes.