By Jack Dignan
The 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven didn’t necessarily change the face of cinema, but it made it cool again. It was sleek, stylish fun, and allowed director Steven Soderbergh to bring the gang back together again for two more sequels. The franchise became the epitome of fashionable filmmaking. Soderbergh’s career continued to rise. And then, just four years ago, he announced his retirement. The director-editor-cinematographer-producer was stepping down from his much-beloved craft, but it didn’t take long for him to return. Now, we have Logan Lucky, and this redneck Ocean’s Eleven reboot is a most welcome homecoming for the Oscar-winning director.
Soderbergh may not be as big a household name as, say, his fellow Steven Mr. Spielberg, but amongst film lovers he’s one to look out for. He always has been. Loosing a talent such as his, no matter what the department, would be a major loss. Except he never really left. Throughout his four years of retirement, which many directors would consider an average gap between feature films, Soderbergh managed to keep one foot in the water. He not only edited the bombastic, endlessly fun Magic Mike XXL, but he directed every episode of The Knick. He never left, he’s just been reloading his talents, and now he’s back with a harmless reminder of why the world needs more Soderbergh.
If Ocean’s Eleven was smart characters pulling off an ingenious heist, Logan Lucky is dumb characters pulling off an idiotic one. There’s no cool gadgets, contortionists or double agents. It’s a one armed bartender (Adam Driver), his recently fired brother (Channing Tatum), their hairdresser sister (Riley Keoug) and an incarcerated James Bond (Daniel Craig) teaming up to rob NASCAR during their biggest race of the year, and it’s every bit as ridiculous and stupid as one would guess, but in all the best possible ways. Comparisons to Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven are completely justifiable. In fact, for the most part, the films follow near-identical structures, but they deal with the complete opposite set of characters, and I guess that’s kind of enough to warrant this being its own thing.
These are characters that are larger than life and louder than the worst kind of neighbour you can think of, yet there’s likeability amongst all of them. They’re down on their luck and predominately left on their own in a world out to get them. None of them have all that many friends. They prefer the company of their own family, which there’s obviously nothing wrong with, and this allows for a stronger sense of bonding. You feel for them. You’re connected with them. They may not agree with everything each other says, but they go along with it because they’re family and to them, there’s nothing more important. Logan Lucky is the story of good characters doing the wrong thing for an admirable reason, even if a lot of their personal motives remain murky for most of the runtime.
It’s a constant reminder that good films don’t need to over-stuff their plots in order to work. These characters take their time in getting things right, often sparing a moment to soak in and appreciate what it is their doing. The plot moves at a slowly, occasionally clunky pace, but it isn’t a film about the heist. I mean, yeah, technically it is, but it’s a more personal voyage for these characters than it is a crime-comedy. You spend a lot of time with them and their family, for both better and worse, but by the end of it, once the credits role, there’s warmth in your heart. Our redneck protagonists become unlikely heroes, even that of the rambunctious Joe Bang, played by Daniel Craig, who gets all of the best lines.
Sadly, if you’ve seen the trailer, all of the film’s best moments have already been spoilt. This is, of course, no fault on the filmmaker’s behalf, but simply that of the marketing team. You loose part of the joy because you’ve already seen all the film’s best beats, save for one absolutely laugh-out-loud funny Game of Thrones joke that just never stops going and never needs to. There’s a cloud of mystery surrounding the film’s screenwriter, many unsure if the person is real or if it’s Soderbergh once again playing us all (he used a stage name when working as a cinematographer and editor for many, many years), but no matter what the case, they’ve crafted a fun and energetic screenplay that’s sweet, but just a little too long, lacking stakes, a bit familiar and a fairly bumpy ride.
Nonetheless, it’s the energetic, happy-to-be-here performances that prove to be the saving grace. Everyone is having an absolute blast. This is the happiest I’ve seen Daniel Craig in a very long time, which saddens me further to see him step back into the shoes of James Bond in a few years time, a role he’s made very clear he no longer wants. Alas, money speaks, but really, he needs to be doing more films like this. He’s truly sensational in the most ridiculous of ways, but everyone in this film is absolutely nuts. They’re caricatures, but they work within the film’s parameters. Tatum is the most mundane, but it suits his character and the performance is great. Then there’s Adam Driver, whose stiff, awkward movements continuously delighted.
Logan Lucky also seems to have an infatuation with its supporting cast, insisting on cutting back to them over and over. It’s a fair thing to do when the talent is as tremendous as this, featuring the likes of Hilary Swank, Seth McFarlane, Katherine Waterston, Katie Holmes and several others, but it also bogs the pace down to drastic degrees. Just when you think the film is over, you realise there’s an extra half an hour latched onto the end. Katherine Waterston’s character in particular felt staggeringly unnecessary. She appears in two scenes and neither felt needed, even if her performance is admirable. Soderbergh creates a lived in world, but it didn’t need to be as big and luxurious as he made it feel. What it really needed was a little more focus.
It’s a long and uneven rode getting to the closing credits of Logan Lucky, and while disappointment was the first thought to flood through my mind, that’s partially to do with my excessively high expectations. This is a good film. In fact, it’s a really good film. It’s so close to being a great film, but there’s an overt simplicity about it that leaves you with a desire for more. Logan Lucky is a charming movie, but there’s just not enough there to warrant it as a must see.
3 1/2 Stars
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