Steven Soderbergh marks his return to feature filmmaking after his reported retirement with Logan Lucky, a heist film in the same stylistic vein as his Oceans films. Instead of the lavish cityscape and bright lights of Las Vegas, however, in Logan Lucky we are treated with rural North Carolina. The high security casino: replaced by a low security NASCAR race track.
The lead figure in this heist is Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), who sees a crack in the system of pressure tubes that carry money from the race track to a nearby bank vault and decides to exploit it after he is fired from his job at the construction company filling sinkholes underneath the track.
Jimmy wants to steal so he can provide for his family. More specifically, he wants to be there for his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie).
But the film doesn’t give us a lot of exposure to the emotional stakes of this family. The film opens on a conversation between Jimmy and Sadie, her sitting on a fence watching as he works under the hood of his truck. It is a wonderful scene that introduces us to this father-daughter relationship.
From here, however, interactions between the two are few and far between. When we do see them, the closest we get to seeing their connection is Jimmy continuously disallowing Sadie from giving him a proper low five.
This lack of emotional stakes would not mean so much if the film did not invest all of its emotional eggs in the father-daughter basket. One pivotal scene later in the film depicting Sadie at a beauty pageant is meant to carry much more emotional weight than it actually does, unfortunate given how well the moment plays out.
This isn’t to say that the film is inherently faulty for its lack of connection. That the stakes feel so low for most of the movie, and that we never really know what any of the other robbers need the money for may keep the characters of the film surface level. But this just adds to the cartoonish nature of the film as a whole.
Much of the action in the film revolves around good fortune and dumb luck falling into the laps of these petty thieves. The dominos seem prone to fall in exactly the right formation, which makes the film feel rife with plot contrivances. But this also colors the film with a simplistic levity that comes off more Looney Toons than Heat.
These shortcomings of character and narration create a distance between the film and the audience, an acknowledgement from both sides of the artifice of it all. This can take some of the sizzle out of what is otherwise a stylistically masterful addition to Soderbergh’s oeuvre. But there is still enough rambunctious fun to be had in the film to make up for the lack of narrative depth.
Lucky Logan is filled with charismatic performances, from the droll Adam Driver as Jimmy’s brother to Daniel Craig, who is repurposed to the point of having a strangely deserved “and introducing” credit.
The best performance in the film, however, comes from the camera. Seemingly every shot is composed with care, and they are edited with a keen eye for visual pacing.
Soderbergh remains at the top of his game. His vision controls this whimsically haphazard narrative with artistic precision.
Logan Lucky: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)