Welcome back, Mr. Soderbergh. Like Daniel Craig’s squirrelly convicted safecracker Joe Bang, the lure of a big score has lured the elusive artisan out of the shadows and back to mainstream filmmaking. The director has ended his hiatus with another satisfying round of his fine-tuned recipe for heist flicks, and his method shows no signs for wear. Logan Lucky is up to par with the best of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films, and effectively contrasts them with a refreshing admiration of redneck genius.
Though he’s not a household name like Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg, Steven Soderbergh has maintained a steady career over the past few decades flourishing at the box office while simultaneously appeasing critics. He won an Oscar with his 2001 drug drama Traffic, and has since gradually shifted his focus to churning out solid, if unspectacular crowd-pleasers such as Contagion and Haywire. After his superb 2012 thriller Side Effects, Soderbergh made his public declarations of quitting a reality by retiring from directing theatrical features altogether.
Thankfully, he wasn’t gone for long, as the emergence of Logan Lucky’s clever concept proved too beguiling to let the script fall into someone else’s hands. Though he may be done with his ambitious indie phase for good (he recently told the New York Times “I’ve really lost my interest… in anything that smells important”), Soderbergh’s proficiency in fluid direction renders him essential to modern film. His content might not be as aspirational as it once was, but the director consistently excels at administering the output of seamless cinema, and remains ever-dependable at eliciting natural performances from his actors.
In Logan Lucky, frequent Soderbergh favorite Channing Tatum stars as Jimmy Logan, a southern construction worker who gets laid off from his company during a job underneath Charlotte Motor Speedway. Fed up and hoping to provide for his daughter, Jimmy hatches a plan for a heist using knowledge he’s gained of the race track’s networked cash delivery system. He then convinces his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), an Iraq veteran who lost part of his arm, and his sister Mellie (Riley Keough), to team up in robbing the speedway during the Coca-Cola 600 in an elaborate operation that involves breaking oddball safe cracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of jail.
Soderbergh’s theatrical reentry demonstrates his frustration with the industry has had no effect on his ability. With his newest offering, viewers can be treated once again to the smart, stylish mischief of the director’s Ocean’s films, after he made his intentions clear of not continuing that franchise (though we can look forward to a female-led spin-off from Gary Ross next year). Like Ocean’s Eleven and Thirteen, Logan Lucky features an ensemble cast attempting an impossible heist. Also similar to those films, Logan Lucky doesn’t subject you to grueling info-dumps, but rather glides along at a brisk pace by revealing the plan as it unfolds.
There is one fundamental difference here, however. Rather than starring suited up white-collar specialists looking to add a few million to their stacks, Logan Lucky recognizes country, working class hustlers trying to get by. Lucky’s oil and sweat vividly distinguishes itself from the Ocean’s trilogy’s tech and polish, emanating an intimate understanding of rural Americana. In an age when voters bemoan the media’s fixation on wealthy urbanites, Logan Lucky offers a gratifying counterweight without anything to prove. The film is a rousing outing in popcorn entertainment, and it extends the spotlight to the working man without making him the target of mockery.
Lucky’s perfectly-curated ensemble cast thrives off a script that relies on droll, deadpan humor. Channing Tatum is convincing as a backwoods laborer who detests social media and is wary of cell phones. Adam Driver’s understated Clyde exacts an expert chemistry with him. However, the best performance is the startling turn from Daniel Craig. The eccentric and shifty Joe Bang is relentlessly entertaining, and the archaic southern drawl is a monumental shift from Craig’s classed up James Bond. Lucky‘s gratifying wide cast also includes Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Hillary Swank, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam and Sebastian Stan.
Striking an unusual, yet effective tone of being both laidback and fast-paced, Soderbergh demonstrates once again his knack for amusement and his confidence as a director. Logan Lucky’s adroit ensemble cast delights in an intelligent script from Rebecca Hall, who, having no previous credits to her name, has been speculated to be a pseudonym for Soderbergh himself or his wife. If that were to be the case, it would further represent the director’s habit of distancing himself from mainstream adoration as he consistently crafts first-rate pictures. Either way, it’s great to have him back. Hopefully he’s here to stay.