How long ago did Steven Soderburgh retire from films? I guess it don’t really mean so much when he claims that and then directs, shoots, and edits two whole seasons of a television show. He’s been tempted back to the big screen, he says, because he was passed a script so fun he couldn’t resist taking it on himself. That’s his story, nobody’s actually that sure if the credited screenwriter here even exists. Given that ‘Mary Ann Bernard’ and ‘Peter Andrews’ are transparent by this point there’s some reason to be suspect.
That’s industry speculation though, in the end it comes down to having a light comedy, ensemble heist movie that needs being made. There ain’t no working director who can do that so good as Soderbergh. Like, even the Oceans sequels which ain’t so concerned with heists as just pratting around with some of the greatest actors in the world shine easy. We ain’t seeing anything wild here, the man is playing all his hits, but when they so gold it’s damn near impossible not to be charmed by them.
They all seem to be having such a fun time. I mean, Soderbergh films feel like that because he has his stable. Channing Tatum is back, Riley Keough worked on his television projects, he’s bringing in Adam Driver and Daniel Craig (who gets an introducing credit which feels like a lovely and perfect joke, I guess this was at the time he thought he was done with Bond). They all get to put on these fun midwestern accents and be quirky, lovable, kind-hearted goofballs trying to make their way into a life of crime.
It’s an Ocean’s movie wearing a different jacket. Everyone be talking up how it’s all very different, how these people are poor and their lives are hard and they’re real people just struggling to get by. I don’t buy that, it’s just aesthetics, everyone wants a happy life, we just all have a different interpretation of it. This one involves an unabashed love for John Denver’s classic Take Me Home, Country Roads.
The thing that clangs a little is I could never be too sure how sincere the film was being with all that. Like, you’re making a film about some blue collar country workers robbing a Nascar freeway. I get it, it’s hard not to make fun, but you shouldn’t be doing it at the expense of your characters, at the end of the day they’re people too, they deserve respect. I can’t always be sure that the film is giving them that.
We’ve got the bad guys, who aren’t Nascar, they’re pretty much an innocent party in all this. It’s the freeway who fire Logan from his construction job after assessing him a liability because they don’t want to cover his health condition. It’s the owner of a for profit prison who’s more concerned about his bottom line then the people in his care. It’s his daughter’s new stepfather who owns a car dealerships and is generally a wealthy ass. The film knows where to paint its targets, but look at how our leads talk, especially about technology.
Like, Logan has a phone which he don’t pay his bills for and yet he doesn’t know what facebook is. The tech savvy one is the one who knows how to use twitter and there a scene where he gets confused by a tetanus shot. Katherine Waterston plays the physician who appears in like two scenes and brings a whole bunch to that underwritten role. Maybe it’s just that the film gets caught up in all the scheming and planning that it don’t give us enough time to dive into these characters under the surface.
We know that they must be some sort of intelligent, they’re literally robbing a bank vault but the film seems to think it can pull easier laughs out of them if they were just stupid. So it makes them dumb, and dumb is funny but it don’t really help towards building strong human characters. Then I suppose that’s the benefit of casting these stars because I’d watch any of them eat grout and be amused. Once the film starts popping, it moves with intent and purpose straight through its running time.
There’s an extended bit about negotiating terms for ending a prison riot which goes on for a bit, and once they escape with the money the film gets caught in the weeds a little but aside from that there isn’t a single wasted moment. It trips and zips, there’s a subplot straight outta Little Miss Sunshine about a beauty pageant, but unlike that trash film it actually takes the endeavour seriously. I think. It’s this evocation of a down home, countrified, southern working America that does it all without throwing in a confederate flag.
See that’s a prescient move on the part of the production designers, they’re able to create this perfect image of an unproblematised south. Maybe it’s a lost cause, but I enjoy my utopianism, it’s important for us to watch good people. These people are good. If the Oceans films ride the wave of moral implications on a board made up of charming actors, this one acknowledges the hardships faced by real people. There’s another bit about the characters discussing the morality of the job. It’s funny, but it’s also present, it’s also aware.
It don’t matter so much, at the end of the day you just want the Logan family to get a win. If they can’t right the wrongs of America the can at least make a little money off of the whole thing. Like all the best heist joints that’s what it’s all about in the end. The process. As I said up the top, ain’t no one better than Soderbergh at process. I might have my reservations but there’s no denying it is constructed perfectly.
Logan Lucky is currently screening in UK cinemas.
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