Redneck Ocean’s 11
I’ll say this for “spiritual successors,” they’re unpredictable in terms of quality. They can be really good, blisteringly atrocious, or painfully mundane. So it does come as a surprise to me when we get one of actual quality especially when they’re are many elements that simply don’t appeal to me in the slightest. But here we are with Logan Lucky, essentially Ocean’s 11 by way of Smokey and the Bandit or Raising Arizona.
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is a divorced but loving father from West Virginia who recently got laid off from his construction job at Charlotte Motor Speedway due to liability fears from management. Frustrated by the NASCAR company for screwing him over and the fact his only daughter will be moved across the State by his ex-wife, Jimmy enlists his one-armed, Iraq War veteran brother, Clyde (Adam Driver) to steal from the Speedway. Together, they recruit a menagerie of colorful characters like their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), Sam and Fish (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid), and explosives expert, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig in an absurdly fun hillbilly accent), to pull off their daring heist on one of the busiest races in the NASCAR season. Of course there’s multiple obstacles the crew have to deal with, not the least of which is the fact Joe Bang is incarcerated. They also have to contend with various impeding their progress like a rich British tycoon (Seth MacFarlane), a pretentious race driver (Sebastian Stan), an arrogant and idiotic prison warden (Dwight Yoakam), and an hard-nosed FBI agent (Hillary Swank). As they say, “hilarity ensues.”
And I’m not just being sarcastic, this is a pretty fun film. It may not pack as much jokes as the aforementioned Ocean’s 11, but that’s because it’s in keeping with the theme of its setting. Instead of the slick-talking con men conspiring around Las Vegas, you have a group of Heartland American types drinking a few beers as they plan and execute an elaborate score that everyone around them assumes they’re too dumb to pull off. And that’s part of the reason the film works as well it does: because it’s leading you on to believe these guys can’t pull it off either because of morality, inexperience, or buying into what every other character says about them. Namely, that they’re just simple country folk and nothing more.
But the film slowly but surely reveals depth of their plan and the characters themselves. Channing Tatum is especially great in this as being antithesis to Danny Ocean, he genuinely and outwardly shows concern for his family and friends but he plays “dumb” to hide the fact he’s about six steps ahead of everyone else, including his own team. You also find yourself rooting for him because he’s an endearing character, which is an important feat to pull off when your protagonists are all thieves. But he purposefully avoids any decision that would make you as an audience turn on him, even as he constantly misleads every character and the audience with his maneuvering.
Helping Tatum along is Adam Driver in another solid supporting role. To me what really sells Driver is what he doesn’t say more so than what he actually talks about. Driver has a very communicative face, and he takes full advantage of that considering look at him strangely considering his service as a veteran and the fact he’s missing a part of his arm. While he does add to plenty of great comedic moments, his relationship with his brother is what adds to the proceedings to make you actually care about these characters.
But the MVP award definitely goes to Daniel Craig. Honestly, not since his premiere as James Bond in Casino Royale, has Craig surprised me as much as he did here. He’s absolutely a joy to watch as the team’s explosive expert, giving tons of more depth to what might have been a throwaway role. He’s energetic and absolutely magnetic in his performance by combining eccentric planning, a curmudgeonly facade, and charmingly flirtatious to any and all women that meet his gaze. One critic pointed out that he could be easily nominated for Best Supporting Actor next year, and I frankly wouldn’t be surprised. This is exactly the kind of lightning in a bottle performance that netted Johnny Depp his first Oscar nod as Jack Sparrow, only considerably more entertaining.
Managing this large cast together is long time ensemble master, Steven Soderbergh, who directed the Ocean’s Trilogy, Magic Mike, Contagion, and Traffic. He apparently retired from film making for the past three or so years, which made as much sense as when Jay-Z retired over a decade ago for a while there. I mean the guy was on top of his game with critical and commercial hit after hit, while lesser directors have plugged away in this industry churning mediocre entry after mediocre entry. But Soderbergh has always understood how to keep his audience invested by giving you just enough time with each character to understand their motivations and their sympathies while also driving the story in a neat pace that never feels dull.
If there’s anything to critique about his style at all is that it’s too much like his previous work in Ocean’s 11, right down to how the heist is planned and executed. The team carry out their plans while scenes are mixed in showing their previous discussions much like in the Ocean’s Trilogy; hell, they even pull a bunch of surprise twists to their plans in a similar fashion by making you, the audience, think they failed in certain elements. But the film never felt like a rehash to me, because I was having a such good time getting to and hanging around these characters. I’ve stated multiple times, that character development can make an old concept feel fresh, but I’ve also said strong direction can cover up any developmental weakness the film may have. Combining both is the ideal mode for the true standout movies of the year, and Logan Lucky happily belongs in that category.
This film is being criminally ignored at the box office, so do take some time out of your schedule and check this one out. I think you’ll have a great old time at the theater because this is a solid…