Steven Soderbergh is back, and it feels so good. After flirting with the possibility of retirement since 2011, the filmmaker – known for his eclectic filmography – took a sabbatical from directing feature films in 2013 after completing Behind the Candelabra. That isn’t to say he hasn’t been busy since; aside from serving as an executive producer and cinematographer (credited as Peter Andrews, his longtime pseudonym) on a few films and TV shows, he directed the entire two seasons of The Knick, Cinemax’s acclaimed TV series. At long last, he brings his sabbatical to an end with Logan Lucky, a gleeful, rip-roaring, and surprisingly poignant flick.
The story’s Southern sensibilities keep it firing on all cylinders. Reminiscent of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy, this heist comedy is efficiently plotted from beginning to end. By seasoning the material with an enticing mix of Southern herbs and spices, Soderbergh and screenwriter Rebecca Blunt make this tale feel like a hearty, home-cooked meal that has us coming back for more. Needless to say, this is a high-spirited and drop-dead hilarious affair, as the film constantly pokes fun at the hillbilly way of life, particularly how the characters act and what they value. Yet at the same time, it unabashedly expresses a sincere appreciation for this charming bunch and their culture, since at the root of it all is the theme of family. There’s the endearing relationship between Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) that serves as the film’s stirring emotional core. Throw in the fact that almost everyone involved in the caper comes from two families and that they motivate one another to carry on, and the filmmakers have themselves a character-driven story boasting plenty of relationships to invest in. All of the characters are terrific, though the film does feel overstuffed with them, as several of them play very minor and inconsequential roles to the plot.
Soderbergh’s return to feature film directing surely must have turned many an actor’s head, as the cast assembled here is ridiculously talented. There’s not a weak link to be found, and what helps is that everyone is clearly having fun. Tatum is more than comfortable as the awkward yet lovable Jimmy, as is Adam Driver as Jimmy’s deadpan brother Clyde. Playing their sister Mellie, Riley Keough bursts with energy whenever she’s on screen. Daniel Craig uses his screen presence wonderfully to be an absolute riot as demolitions expert Joe Bang. Also funny are Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid; as Bang’s brothers Sam and Fish respectively, the two simply pop when playing off of each other. Though often on the periphery, Katie Holmes oozes no-nonsense authority as Jimmy’s ex-wife Bobbie Jo. MacKenzie is undeniably adorable here, and she enjoys a lovable chemistry with Keough and Tatum. The likes of Seth MacFarlane, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank, and Katherine Waterston play minor characters here, but the spirit they put into their performances definitely makes them memorable.
The film is lovingly and sensibly crafted. Soderbergh serves the film’s cinematographer and editor (the aforementioned Andrews as the former and Mary Ann Bernard as the letter), and his work here is exceptional. An often yellow-gold color palette brings warmth to the frame and highlights the emotions at play. The use of long takes and ensemble staging grant the film many opportunities to showcase the performances by the cast. Never missing a beat, the film moves comfortably and quickly, which complements the leanness of the plot. Howard Cumming’s production design lends a worn look to both the exteriors and interiors of buildings, making everything feel quite tangible and effectively transporting us to the film’s world. Ellen Mirojnick’s costumes are understated, but there are moments when their sheer range of colors cause them pop off the screen.
A great film like Logan Lucky is solid proof that cinema greatly benefits from having Soderbergh around. He adapts himself well to the material, knows how to tell a good story, and gets the most out of his actors. Soderbergh, may you stay for the long (and hopefully never-ending) run.
* Photos courtesy of Fingerprint Releasing and Bleecker Street