As spoilerific as movie trailers try to be in the current of age of film promotion, they don’t always capture the mood or nuance of a movie. Pardon the commercial clip at the end of this review, but reducing the characters of Logan Lucky to quirky sound bites is an injustice to the sympathetic humanity carefully revealed over the great movie’s near-two-hour runtime. The film opens with a patiently paced and warm sequence outdoors on a bright afternoon in the American South featuring an exchange between two members of what turns out to be a cursed family, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) and his 9-year-old daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie). As dad works on the engine of his pickup truck, Sadie talks about selecting a song to sing for her upcoming talent pageant. At the same time, she assists in handing her father tools that she constantly asks specifics for, so she might pick the right one. Jimmy, meanwhile espouses on the greatness of John Denver to her.
It’s a sweet, slight moment that could have gone overboard on the sugary quality of the relationship, but it also reveals the confidence director Steven Soderbergh has in both storytelling and the film’s audience. Character is sketched out at a distance that never betrays a connection through earthy actions like engine tinkering and the sharing of dreams and fantasies encouraged by pop music. Jimmy is a husky man with a scruffy goatee and his willowy daughter’s big head is accented with pigtails and long bangs. The film weaves its charms early on, and as more characters are revealed, like Jimmy’s one-armed bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and their tough guy inmate pal Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), a rich tapestry of sympathetic, smart characters hidden below tough exteriors is revealed.
Soderbergh, who hasn’t directed a theatrical movie since 2013’s Side Effects is supposedly working off a “debut script” by an unknown screenwriter named Rebecca Blunt, who has done no press for the movie. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Blunt never even appeared on set and may in fact be someone else, including Soderbergh’s wife, Jules Asner, who is an E! television host or comedian John Henson, if not Soderbergh himself. Soderbergh has only come out to insist the screenwriter is a woman but has revealed little else. I like the idea that it may be his wife, who has written a novel. There hasn’t been a movie by this director with characters that feel as rich as the Logan family, which also includes beautician Mellie (Riley Keough), not to mention the comic relief of the Bang brothers trio, which also include Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson.
The story that propels these characters coming together is a heist at a NASCAR racetrack in North Carolina. The use of montage, the layers of narrative twists and these sympathetic gray-area characters who propel the plot along certainly recalls Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy of movies. But it’s the every-man character of these people, especially the Logan family aspiring to transcend their family curse of misfortune, that will ultimately win over the audience. Logan Lucky proves you can make entertaining movies without reducing characters to stereotypes or quirks, and it makes for a strong return to theatrical movie-making by Soderbergh, who must have certainly learned something about character building from working on the enriching pace of television programming during his movie hiatus.
Logan Lucky runs 119 minutes and is rated PG-13. It opens in our South Florida at The Landmark at Merrick Park and most multiplexes. For screenings in your neighborhood, follow this link. Bleeker Street Media invited us to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.