It’s four years since Steven Soderbergh made the shock announcement that he was retiring from filmmaking. Mind you, he hasn’t exactly been putting his feet up with a cup of cocoa. There’s the little matter of directing two seasons of medical TV show, The Knick (under an alias) and his involvement in the upcoming project Mosaic (of which I know very little, other than it’s a ‘branching narrative’) So there’s the distinct impression that he may have returned to the big screen with Logan Lucky for a quieter life.
In a way, he’s returning to familiar territory, as this is a heist movie, a path he’s already worn fairly smooth. But put aside all thoughts of the slick, ultra cool Oceans 11. As one character observes in Rebecca Blunt’s caustic script, this is more like Oceans 7/11 – a tattered, down-at-heel story set in West Virginia. (John Denver on the soundtrack? Naturally.)
Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a down-on-his luck former sports star, who loses his job as a bulldozer driver because of an old injury which has left him with a permanent limp. Divorced from his wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) and with a precocious young daughter to care for, he comes up with a desperate scheme to make money, one that he shares with his taciturn one-armed war veteran brother, Clyde (Adam Driver). The two of them will rob the Coca Cola 600 Race in Charlotte, Virginia, a massive sporting event that generates millions of dollars. Clyde decides that he’s ‘in’ but, to carry out the robbery, the brothers will need to enlist the services of infamous explosives expert, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, as you have never seen him before). Only problem is, Joe is already doing time for other misdemeanours, so the brothers will need to break him out of jail, do the heist and get him back inside without his presence being missed. Complicated? You bet. Impossible? Well, it’s going to take some planning and, of course, this is exactly the kind of premise that Soderbergh loves to play with.
There’s plenty here to enjoy. Tatum and Driver work well together, even if they are the most unlikely film siblings since Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. Riley Keough puts in an appealing performance as Jimmy’s resourceful sister, Mellie, and both Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson are brilliant as Joe’s dumb-and-dumber brothers, Fish and Sam, who Joe insists must be brought on board to help expedite the robbery. And Craig really does have a whale of a time as the outlandish explosives expert, addicted to eating hard boiled eggs and able to create explosives from the most innocuous ingredients. Gummy Bears? Who knew?
But not everything in the mix is perfect. I could have done without Seth MacFarlane’s oafish Max Chilblane, sporting an English accent that’s almost as bad as the one employed by Don Cheadle in the Oceans movies. Hilary Swank is mostly wasted in the role of a ruthless investigator trying to nail the perpetrators of ‘the Hillbilly Heist’, given little to do but stand around and glower at people and, in my opinion – at just under two hours – the film is about thirty minutes too long. A leaner, meaner narrative would have helped no end here, but perhaps I’m quibbling. This is a very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours in the cinema and there’s no doubt that Soderbergh has returned to the movie business with a palpable hit.
What next for him, I wonder? Another ‘retirement?’ More TV? And that branching narrative he keeps mentioning? We’ll just have to wait and see.