Movie Review: Logan Lucky (Spoiler Free)
Despite a rocky start, Logan Lucky is one heist movie you do not want to miss.
Finally! A good heist movie! I’ve been wandering through the wastelands of iffy or downright bad heist flicks for more than a year. I was beginning to despair of finding a good one, but I was right to trust in Steven Soderbergh. The brains behind the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, The Limey, and Criminal returns to a genre he has supreme command over and gives us another gem. While the faces are new and the caper seems less sophisticated on its surface than other slick heist films, Logan Lucky has the goods when it comes to a smart crime movie.
Logan Lucky (2017)
The Logan family has been haunted by a backwoods family curse for generations. While Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) believes it as gospel, his brother Jimmy (Channing Tatum) thinks it’s all hogwash, until he loses his job as a construction worker for the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Eager to get out from under a dark cloud that hangs over his family and the depressed rural population that surrounds him, he devises a scheme to rob the race track with the aid of a slightly unhinged explosives expert named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). Things don’t go as they planned, but then again the plan was always to prepare for the worst.
The plot structure of Logan Lucky is more akin to films about magicians such as The Prestige or Now You See Me than the slick styling of his Ocean’s Eleven films. The con is laid out in stages where different tactics need to be employed, from simple misdirection, to subtle substitution, to the grand finale of making all the money disappear. The clever part about Logan Lucky is that the actions of the heist are mirrored in the presentation of the film. Soderbergh is just as concerned about concealing his methods and tricks from the audience as he is with his characters being able to pull of the caper. In the beginning the misdirection is so layered that I was starting to get worried that the film’s trailer had sold me a bag of cheap goods. By the end, I was loving every twist and turn as Soderbergh let me in on the con.
I have to say I was not impressed by the first act of the film. The exposition offers a film that is much different in tone from the humorous trailers. The Logan family lives in a depressed and hard-scrabble area where dreams are crushed with alarming regularity. What looked like funny stereotypes of rural hayseeds turns out to be an intense look at the hardships of life in the country. Even lines that were used for laughs in the trailer wind up being in scenes where they’re bleak and harsh. Soderbergh is making a little bit of a political statement in places, and it crosses over into being a tad more pointed than most audiences would probably have anticipated.
The second act starts to subtly replace and amend this initial bleak view. Characters start to feel a bit more humorous and broad. It’s not a hard switch, but it is a nice gradual shift in tone that captures the fun of the promotional material. When the film gets dark again towards the end, it’s not a sudden reversal as we now know that these characters live on the edge of bad times and bad breaks. The rocky start has cleared the way for a film that can alternate between levity and drama as needed and is much richer for it. As for the humor, while it is a bit less campy than the trailers, it is effective and I heard plenty of laughs and gasps from the audience I was with.
By the third act, you’re ready for the heist proper. All of the characters have been introduced and their motivations at least hinted at if not defined. There are a lot of balls in the air, intentionally keeping you from fixating on any one character or story thread. While you’re trying to count them all, the film is busy hiding elements in plain sight that will become important in the big ending.
Before that, however, there is one more trick up Soderbergh’s sleeve as a major plot twist caps off the initial action. As a lover of heist films, I thought the initial heist sequences were good but not great. They’re smart and well paced, relying just enough on chance to seem realistic while still giving the feel of a finely choreographed ballet. It’s not until the whole thing suddenly changes tone again that Logan Lucky elevates its central caper from merely good to amazing.
The film has an unanticipated fourth act where things are flipped upside down. The stakes of the heist are altered and the motivations of key players are changed. In a traditional heist movie, this would be were the careful plan has begun to fray and people are stabbing each other in the back right and left. In Logan Lucky, we take a hard right turn into another character’s perspective, that of an FBI agent played by Hilary Swank. She begins to tug at all of the knots holding the caper together, and there is a new source of tension that the heist may unravel from forces outside our motley crew. It’s in this act where all of the minor players suddenly become integral and you appreciate how deep of a cast Soderbergh has put together. Adam Driver, Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig were excellent, but the supporting cast really make the world feel whole and satisfying.
By the end of this film, my opinion had gone from apprehensive to mild approval all the way to wild enthusiasm. This is a great heist flick. In the best robbery films the final act makes or breaks the drama. In many of Soderbergh films he uses dialogue and the order of sequences to suddenly shift your understanding of the whole film. Logan Lucky does both masterfully. I was enamored of the whole caper and in love with the characters, even ones I thought were inconsequential or under-used. I walked out of the theater impressed with the whole show (even while acknowledging that the first act is indeed rather shaky.) I hope that this turns into a franchise like Ocean’s Eleven, since I really want to return to this world and this cast of luckless heroes.