Soderbergh's NASCAR heist movie Logan Lucky a blue-collar Ocean's 11

By Karen Gordon

It may look Ocean-like, but Steven Soderbergh fans could get antsy waiting for the heist film Logan Lucky to catch a wave. Not to worry, though. Patience pays off.

The story of the unlucky Logans has a similar structure and trajectory as Soderbergh’s Ocean movies (11, 12 and 13). Ie: smart, suave criminals plan a seemingly impossible robbery that requires pulling together a large, individually specialized crew. 

But Logan Lucky takes its time working up the snap, crackle and pop of its spiritual predecessors. It also sneakily works in cultural and political insights Danny Ocean would never bother with.

This ain't no Ocean's. Channing Tatum, Riley Keough and Adam Driver in Logan Lucky

This ain't no Ocean's. Channing Tatum, Riley Keough and Adam Driver in Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky is centered around Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum). He’s a coal miner and labourer who, through no fault of his own, can’t seem to keep a job. He’s a loving father to his young daughter who adores him. But he must ritually return her to his ex (Katie Holmes) and her doofus husband (David Denman) who just keeps getting richer. How much can a good man take?
Jimmy is able to cry in his beer because his perpetually stoic brother, Clyde (Adam Driver) is the bartender at the local dive. Clyde, in his own way, is even more luckless. Sure, he has a job, but he had he lower half of his arm blown off on his second tour in Iraq. He has a large, clumsy plastic prosthesis, and a bad attitude. Their sister Mellie (Riley Keough) is the most functional. She’s a hairdresser with a fondness for long acrylic nails.  

But Jimmy is tired of dead ends. After another brick wall, he decides that he’s going to commit a robbery. And he sets his sights on a NASCAR event in Charlotte, NC.  As it happens, Jimmy knows the venue inside out, including the days it does the most cash business and the weaknesses he can potentially exploit. He comes up with an intricate plan with lots of moving parts.

So now, Jimmy needs a team (you know how this goes).  Clyde and Mellie are in. For an explosives expert they turn to a friend named Joe Bang (played by Daniel Craig with a dyed yellow brush cut and a faux southern accent).  The problem is that he’s in jail and, with just five months left on his sentence, he’s not about to screw that up - initially. 

If you’ve seen any of the Ocean’s series films, then you know the Soderbergh heist canon requires a big target, generally an institution or individual, so the idea of a theft seems like just desserts and issues of morality don’t distract from the fun. The plan is elaborate and every step seems to require as much planning and preparation as a royal wedding. 

Then even with the planning, there are challenges around every corner. Much of the fun comes from getting to know the idiosyncratic team members and watching them cope with obstacles and random setbacks en route to the cash.

All of those things are present in Logan Lucky.  Jimmy’s team is like a blue-collar mirror image of the Ocean’s crew. 

That said, it unfolds comparatively slowly, and Soderbergh avoids the quick clever cuts we’ve seen before. The first act is all introduction of the vast cast of idiosyncratic characters. And even though they’re well drawn and cast, the process drags the narrative like an anchor.

Daniel Craig: The name is Bang... Joe Bang.

Daniel Craig: The name is Bang... Joe Bang.

Tatum is a great choice for a lead here. He’s down, but not out. He’s dirt poor and feels cursed and yet is still suave enough that we can believe he could pull off his heist.  And his relationship with his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) feels true. 

Not everything lands. Seth MacFarlane puts on a wig and a British accent to play an obnoxious TV celebrity and, surprisingly isn’t quite madcap or slapstick enough to liven things up. And as wonderful an actor as she is, Katherine Waterston’s character is underused and arguably unnecessary to the film.    

But, in the end, we’re there for the ‘will they pull this off’ thrill and we get the twists and turns we want. 

If this was just a heist film, that would be good enough. If not Soderbergh’s best, it would be an enjoyable and satisfying evening at the theatre. 

But there’s more going on here than a story about a bunch of amateurs attempting a complicated robbery.  Soderbergh subtly sprinkles the film with cultural and political references. America brings its working people together at a NASCAR event (practically a Red State religious ceremony). War planes fly overhead as the national anthem plays. 

It’s a place where a character who loves his daughter and who has the instincts of a Robin Hood can take on a faceless corporation that pulls money from working people as it entertains them. Insert your own social parallel here.

Logan Lucky. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. Opens in wide release Friday, August 18.

Karen Gordon

Karen Gordon is a freelance writer/broadcaster who reviews movies Fridays on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. She’s covered him, music and popular culture for 20 years in radio, TV and print. She's also a creative producer, series story editor and writer for documentary/lifestyle TV and is the co-writer of two award-winning cookbooks, David Rocco’s Dolce Vita and Made in Italy. Karen still gets a thrill when the lights go down and the movie begins.