Thursday, 31 August 2017

Logan Lucky

"You Logan's must be as simple minded as people say."

I was saddened by the news that Steven Soderbergh intended to retire from directing feature films in 2012. Luckily though, this is Hollywood and most retirements only last a few years at most. Although in actuality ‘Logan Lucky’ is not Hollywood at all, as Soderbergh was granted complete creative control over not just the movie but the entire marketing campaign behind it, which is why it comes as little surprise that it’s everything it promised to be.

West Virginia family man Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) teams up with his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) to steal money from the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Jimmy also recruits demolition expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to help them break into the track's underground system. Complications arise when a mix-up forces the crew to pull off the heist during a popular NASCAR race while also trying to dodge a relentless FBI agent.

It comes as little surprise that Steven Soderbergh knows how to direct a good heist movie, he practically reinvented the genre with ‘Ocean’s 11’ (I feel like there are some numbers that come after 11 but for the life of me I can’t remember them). ‘Logan Lucky’ really does feel like a throwback at times, but it’s a throwback to a better era of movies, one where summer entertainment didn’t require a superhero or a sky beam to be considered ridiculously entertaining. However, at the same time it’s also refreshing in its subject matter and execution which certainly comes as a surprise in this day and age.

The movie remembers that first and foremost in a successful heist flick are the characters. It doesn’t matter how ingenious your scheme is, without characters that feel compelling and well-drawn the audience will struggle to be invested in the ensuing action. Normally however, a relatable character is forced to maintain a degree of realism as anything too eccentric is seen as too detached to be relatable. But ‘Logan Lucky’ populates itself with exaggerated personas that feel empathetic due to the issues they have to navigate. They deal with struggles that are relatable, but their reactions to them are brilliantly staged and hugely entertaining.

Part of that comes from how Soderbergh is depicting a working class struggle that feels both authentic and non-pandering at the same time. It doesn’t take sides or try to divide its subjects into an “us against them” mentality. It treats each character with respect, to a degree that much of the humour comes from laughing with them rather than laughing at them. ‘Logan Lucky’ establishes how its put down characters are belittled by the world around them, so a lot of the most cathartic moments in the story come from seeing these characters defy those expectations.

It’s just as well that the movie has assembled such a fantastic cast to bring these characters to life. Channing Tatum is always magnetic in these kinds of roles, but as Jimmy Logan is able to bring forth a sense of empathy that gives even the movie’s funniest moments a hint of gravitas. Then there’s Adam Driver who exudes a great sense of tragic dignity that draws its humour from his own awkwardness and as part of a duo he plays well against Tatum’s more extroverted personality. Even the minor players portrayed by the likes of Seth McFarlane and Sebastian Stan shine due to the charisma of the actors as well as the distinctiveness of the writing. But the standout has to be Daniel Craig whose turn as the explosives expert Joe Bangs is ridiculously over the top in his personality but also appropriately nuanced in the mannerisms that cement the character as a memorable presence.

However, I have to save most of the praise for Soderbergh himself. Despite the fact that a heist film would initially appear to be an easy option for a comeback movie, Soderbergh manages to subvert the genre in such a unique manner that it almost feels like he has built the foundations from the ground up. He takes a swift departure from the sleeker look of ‘Ocean’s 11’ and crafts a movie that has a much rawer kind of energy. It’s rich and distinct but also refreshingly impulsive as his style of filmmaking perfectly translates to the high octane speed of NASCAR. His ability to balance tone is as on point as ever, blending the inherent comedy of the plot with the underlying tragedy that drives it so brilliantly that it’s hard to know where the humour and poignancy are no longer one of the same, mainly because they aren’t.

Soderbergh could have chosen any safe option to return to filmmaking. But by making ‘Logan Lucky’ he has created a movie that walks a very fine line on numerous occasions. It risks being a farce at times or overly sentimental at others but never strays too far towards either, and the same goes for almost every other conflicting aspect of the movie. Much like its characters, it stands as an unpredictable oddity.

‘Logan Lucky’ is ridiculously entertaining in a way that only Soderbergh can be, but it’s also refreshingly unique in how it goes about doing so.

Result: 8/10

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