(Warning: Contains mild spoilers)
Elaborate heists done by a group of people has always been one of my favourite film sub-genres. If done well, the plan’s intricacies, how it works out in reality, the expected and unexpected obstacles and inevitable tensions within the group can make for fascinating and entertaining films.
Clearly veteran director Steven Soderbergh (making his first film after a very brief retirement) enjoys these films as he made a trio of ‘Oceans’ films based around the same concept and now returns to it with ‘Logan Lucky’, albeit in a very different setting and social milieu.
The film’s plot centres around divorced and just-unemployed construction worker Jimmy (Channing Tatum), who decides robbing a stadium during a NASCAR event is the solution to his problems. He needs the help of multiple people including his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and criminal Joe (Daniel Craig). Unfortunately Joe is in prison but where there’s a will…
I’ve only seen a handful of Steven Soderbergh’s films and while he’s clearly one of the smartest and skilled directors in Hollywood, his movies tend to feel a bit distant and cold. One admires his films without finding them particularly enjoyable or wanting to rewatch them.
And this is how I felt about ‘Logan Lucky’. It’s a smartly done heist film with some fine performances but I was never terribly engaged in it and it was never as entertaining or clever as it thought it was.
The film’s biggest problem is that the people involved in the heist seem to be operating at two intelligence levels depending on the requirements on the plot. In their regular day-to-day lives, they’re often simplistic, even moronic. Indeed, another set of brothers involved in the scheme (played by Jack Quaid & Brian Gleeson) are so idiotic they reminded me of the trio of yokel brothers from the 1980s Newhart TV show.
And yet we’re supposed to believe that this same group of people are able to carry off a highly elaborate and sophisticated heist, not only outwitting a substantial police and security force but also able to get multiple people in and out of prison without the authorities noticing. Perhaps it could be understood if Soderbergh was making a comment on how people like this apply considerable intelligence to an event like a heist while acting foolishly in the rest of their lives, but that would be giving him too much credit.
The other problem with the heist itself is that it relies a lot on lucky timing and people with no connection to it acting in ways that can’t be predicted. For example, how do they convince the prisoners to stage a riot for the required time the heist is run and how do they know the prison warden will react in the exact way they need to enable them to get back into the prison undetected? It’s a scheme that makes the finale to The Sting seem like child’s play.
As well, the film feels erratic and contradictory in its tone. Initially in the early scenes where we see Jimmy with his children, his job situation and his general struggles, it’s striving for a realistic, natural tone. But at other times when characters like such as the buffoonish NASCAR powerbroker (Seth MacFarlane) or a very monotone and robotic FBI agent (Hilary Swank) appear it has a comic, exaggerated and even goofy tone. There are pleasures to be had from both styles (Swank’s performance is quite amusing) but they don’t mesh which hurts the film overall.
This is not to say that ‘Logan Lucky’ isn’t a well-made film. It is stylishly and thoughtfully directed by Soderbergh as usual and the execution of heist is entertainingly (if unbelievably) done. Also, there are a lot of good performances in a fine cast. Daniel Craig practically steals the film with his delightful portrayal of the charismatic but unpredictable Joe. And I admired Channing Tatum for underplaying the central role when it would’ve been easy to try and share the limelight of the array of colourful supporting performances.
But overall, while ‘Logan Lucky’ has undoubted strengths (and is popular amongst critics), it was never as entertaining or substantial as it could’ve been.
Trivia Note: This is the second film I’ve seen at the cinema this year (after Alien: Covenant) that features both Katherine Waterston and has John Denver’s music as a pivotal part of the plot