Logan Lucky comes at the end of a summer which has underwhelmed at the box office despite providing exciting cinema each week. Steven Soderbergh’s return from retirement, a South Carolina set heist film, has been sold as a return to his Oceans Trilogy days while actually delivering something with a far more measured pace and gentle comic touch
The first two entries in Soderbergh’s Oceans series used their heavy star power as a gateway to riff on Richard Lester’s Beatles movies, respectively A Hard Day’s Night’s boundless energy and Help’s meta-iconoclasm. Logan Lucky pays about as much interest to his stars as he does to door handles, black sacks and dollar bills.
Channing Tatum’s character is underdeveloped, ostensibly the lead but with only the vaguest motivation of family and love of his daughter, whose beauty pageant scene, a bizarre, baroque segway, is the highlight of the film. Tatum is sold here as a master con artist, but without any real setup for reveals late in the film his abilities come off as contrived.
Supporting, both Adam Driver and Daniel Craig are game enough and mine plenty of laughs from the script, but it is the smaller cameos that win the film. Seth McFarlane’s turn as an obnoxious British NASCAR driver, somewhere between Jeremy Clarkson and Alan Davies, despite suffering from similar accent issues as the infamous Don Chedle of Ocean’s 11, is surprisingly engaging for the star of A Million Ways to Die in The West.
Hillary Swank’s late appearance brings the film some life, she is having a lot of fun as the FBI agent tasked with investigating the heist. The arc of her character suggests a far more interesting film that could have been.
Soderbergh makes films that show the strange methodical processes that push along our society, industrial, political and personal. Think of the systematic depiction of a deadly virus in Contagion, or even the obsessive behaviours and corporate language of Elmore Leonard’s characters in Out of Sight.
But Logan Lucky has little to say about NASCAR culture (honestly, Talladega Nights said more a decade ago) or Deep South life. Himself a Southerner, Soderbergh brings a certain appreciative colour to the setting.
He is famously detached and nonchalant in presentation but in Logan Lucky he seems genuinely disdainful of the material he has written for himself (if indeed there is truth to the rumour that credited writer Rebecca Blunt is a nom de plume). It is reminiscent of John Huston’s shaggy late-period, films like Fat City and The Misfits. But these great films were attempting to expose Southern ennui. In the interests of commercialism Soderbergh seems to actively eschew politics, rarely saying anything about the images that he finds.
Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, in contrast, had the energy of a red-state travelogue. You could feel her repture when confronted by American iconography and she interrogated it accordingly. Soderbergh’s vision feels so entrenched that while it may play well in The States, for a British audience it is hard to gain satisfaction.
Soderbergh by this point sets up the camera and the figures within it in an interesting fashion with such seeming effortlessness, boredom even, that he would appear to have lost his creative spark. He isn’t reaching for anything new, not toying with our cinematic preconceptions. There are perspective shots and tight framing and arresting movement but it feels rote and lifeless. The only expectation Soderbergh upends is the expectation that he will be creative. It ends up landing like one of the Coen Brothers’ more annoying comedies of idiocy: expertly made, but misanthropic of its audience. It is great to have Soderbergh back in the multiplex but one hopes that his next project is one which progresses his style.