Sometimes greatness is thrust upon us, whether we are willing to accept it or not. I often think of this adage when I watch an exceptionally brilliant piece of cinema, one that takes its time to prove itself. This weeks movie review is an excellent example of a great movie hidden within the context of its time.
When everyone is complaining about entrenched politics, Steven Soderbergh has proven that judging a book by its cover can be fatal.
Logan Lucky (2017)
Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Farrah Mackenzie, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane
Director: Steven Soderbergh
re-released on blu-ray November 28, 2017
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Audience Score 76%
The Guardian: ****/*****
Steven Soderbergh is an American director, producer, and screenwriter. His debut film, Sex, Lies, and Videotape garnered huge attention for him in 1989, and ever since then, he has gone to great success with titles like Erin Brockovich, Traffic, the Ocean’s Eleven remakes, Side Effects, and Magic Mike. Soderbergh has also produced and been involved in a host of other commercial and critically successful movies.
Logan Lucky marks a return to directing for him after a four year hiatus, and I think with this gem, he has proven that he still has a good handle on filmmaking. It’s actually quite a brilliant story.
Courtesy of Wikipedia…
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a blue collar laborer whose once promising football career was ruined by an injury, is laid off from his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. While visiting his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) to pick up their daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) for a beauty pageant, he learns that Bobbie and her new husband intend to move to Lynchburg, making it even harder for him to visit.
Angry, Jimmy goes to a bar run by his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), an Iraq War veteran who, on account of losing part of his left arm, wears a prosthetic hand. Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane), a pretentious British businessman & NASCAR team owner, and his friends arrive and insult Clyde before getting in a fight with Jimmy. Meanwhile, Clyde sets fire to their car with a molotov cocktail. On his way out, Jimmy yells “cauliflower”, which Clyde recognizes as an old code word from when they used to commit crimes as young boys. Next day, Jimmy explains his plan to rob the Speedway, exploiting his knowledge of their pneumatic tube system for moving money.
Clyde agrees to the plan, and he and Jimmy recruit Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), a convicted safecracker, as well as Joe’s dimwitted brothers Sam and Fish (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid), and their own sister Mellie (Riley Keough). They plan to break Joe out of prison and return him as soon as the heist is complete before anyone notices. Clyde gets sent to prison on a minor charge. Mellie, Sam, and Fish infest the Speedway’s main vault with cockroaches, forcing it to be cleaned and allowing them to measure it. While gathering supplies, Jimmy meets former schoolmate Sylvia (Katherine Waterston), who runs a mobile clinic in desperate need of donations; Sylvia provides Jimmy with a tetanus shot and the two strike up a conversation. Later, Jimmy learns that construction at the speedway is being finished ahead of schedule, forcing them to commit the heist earlier, during the much busier Coca-Cola 600 race on Memorial Day weekend.
Joe and Clyde arrange for the prison’s inmates to stage a riot, the lockdown hiding their absence. They escape through the infirmary and exit the prison by hiding under a delivery truck. Mellie meets them with Bobbie’s husband’s stolen sports car, and drives them to the Speedway. Meanwhile, Sam and Fish destroy the main generator with an explosive, forcing all vendors to switch to cash. Joe improvises an explosive from bleach, gummy bears, and a dietary salt substitute to detonate the main pneumatic pipe, and the crew begins vacuuming the money. The staff notice smoke coming out of the tubes, and security guards are dispatched to investigate, but a diversion set up by Jimmy and one of Clyde’s bar patrons prevents them from discovering the heist. Complications arise when Clyde loses his prosthetic hand during the vacuuming, and he and Joe are spotted by Chilblain and his sponsored NASCAR driver Dayton White (Sebastian Stan) while making their way back to prison. Nevertheless, the job is a success, and Jimmy makes it to his daughter’s pageant just as she performs a rendition of his favorite song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. Jimmy abandons the money and anonymously alerts the police so they can retrieve it.
FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank) investigates the heist but – due to the unwillingness of the prison authorities to disclose the extent of the riot, the refuting of Chilblain’s eyewitness account by White (disgruntled as he crashed during the Coca-Cola 600 due to his drinking some of Chilblain’s energy drink as part of the sponsorship deal), and the Speedway administration’s satisfaction with their insurance settlement – the case is closed after six months. Joe is released and returns to his old home where, prompted by a red shovel, he finds part of the money buried by a tree in his yard. During the heist, Jimmy purposely separated several bags from the rest of the loot and sent them to the local dump with the regular trash. The rest he returned to throw off any potential investigations. Jimmy also retrieved Clyde’s prosthetic hand from the vacuum machine. Now working as a Lowe’s salesman and with a house he bought next to his daughter’s, Jimmy happily reunites with his family at Clyde’s bar, where they and the rest of the gang share drinks. Sylvia also arrives and shares a kiss with Jimmy. Clyde doesn’t recognize one of the patrons, who turns out to be Grayson.
What is absolutely brilliant about this movie was revealed to me upon my second viewing of this film with my parents.
They are avid movie watchers, and my dad has probably seen more movies in his lifetime then I have albeit spread out over years of casual watching. So when they both told me that this movie surprised them because they weren’t expecting it to be entertaining, it confirmed a theory I have about a bias many people have – Just because a movie has a slow start, with seemingly boring and simplistic characters, does not mean that it will be a “bad movie.” In fact, the cast of this film demonstrated perfectly how a caper flick should work. If you are watching the flick with the expectation you know what is happening, but are inevitably surprised at how the protagonists pulled off the job, and then movie explains it smartly, you as an audience get to share in the accomplishment. In that case it’s been executed properly. Period.
Pros: It’s a stylish movie, but not for obvious associations of style – these are salt of the earth southern Americans, who have dry humour, and a subtle confidence in their own identities. And consequently the stakes are never raised to distract, because it’s not how these people carry themselves. We get to identify with the principal leads because they act like how we might act at any given moment.
Cons: When the dust clears and all of the mad-cap moments have been revealed, I have to wonder if there were too many one shot characters helping orchestrate the heist behind the scenes. That reminded me too much of Oceans 11 and took me out of it.
Runtime: 1 hour 58 minutes
Points of Interest: This is the first film Soderbergh has directed since his announcement to retire from film. The movie ends on a seemingly ambiguous note, but stops on Clyde’s prosthetic hand, indicating the Logan Curse might not have been lifted, after all.
There is a newscast scene towards the film which dubs the robbers as Ocean’s 7-Eleven. I thought this was a fitting description of the film for people who haven’t seen it yet, and clever bit of self-depreciation on Soderbergh’s part. But that doesn’t mean this movie should be dismissed as just a riff on what has come before. It stands all on it’s own, and has heart, much like the anthemic Take Me Home, Country Roads, which dovetails the story nicely.
Ultimately, I think that what really matters about this film is that it does what it promises intelligently, without putting on airs. And maybe I’m seeing more there then the average filmgoer, but you can tell me if my theory pans out.
Oh and that reminds me! Speaking of tolerance, heart, and disarming movies… Chris and I totally have a recommendation for a great movie to watch with the whole family, one that’ll put a hop in your step. Pun intended.