Logan Lucky is not what you think. Upon watching the trailer, my immediate reaction was that it was yet another heist movie directed by Steven Soderbergh, but this time with rednecks. How original. Yawn. After all, this is the man that, using excessive star power from the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Julia Roberts, recreated the Ocean’s franchise in a successful three film run. So, this ground has certainly been covered. Soderbergh, equally comfortable in heavy drama like Traffic and lighter fare like the Ocean’s movies, succeeded in making a cool, hip, slick remake of heist films. Let’s get this straight. Logan Lucky does share some DNA with these earlier films. It is still a heist film, and hits all of the notes you would expect. The script actively pokes fun at this via a news report, calling them “Ocean’s 7-11.” But they are not the same. I would argue that Logan Lucky, for all of the silliness in the marketing, as well as comedy in the script, is a much more serious film, and has a lot to say about difficult topics.
To start with, the casting is a huge difference. The closest thing to a movie star is our protagonist, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum). Tatum has made a name for himself through an interesting start to his career ranging from flat out comedy in 21 Jump Street to more dramatic roles like Magic Mike and Side Effects. But a movie star he is not. However, I would argue that this is actually to the film’s advantage. George Clooney (or Pitt, or Roberts) is hard to root for. He’s attractive, smooth, talented, and quick witted. Seriously, the guy has literally everything going for him, he does not need us in his corner. Now, this is not to say that Tatum is untalented. But his charm is different, more colloquial. It’s more down home than Hollywood, more smirk than polish. Add in some facial hair, a (to my ears) excellent West Virginian accent, plus a limp and you have an actor who actually appears to be an Everyman. His struggles with employment, fractured families, and care for his fellow man again separate him from any character in the Ocean’s films.
His brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a military veteran who is played with wonderful subtlety by Driver, captures the dry southern humor and genuine kindness needed for the role. Plus, he alters his physicality just enough towards Jimmy to make us somehow believe these two are siblings. Mellie Logan (Riley Keough), yet another in the Logan clan, gives us a smart, capable, no nonsense heroine we can truly get behind. Also with standout performances are Daniel Craig (as you’ve never seen him before) and Dwight Yoakam. Aside from a couple missteps, the cast is full of recognizable faces becoming unrecognizable due to the underseen types of characters they portray.
Where this film truly diverges from the rest of Soderbergh’s work is the character’s backgrounds. These are not experts in their field. These are not career respected criminals. These are not the people you expect to end on top. Instead, Jimmy is fired from his job unfairly due to a “pre-existing condition,” an obvious dig at an unfair health care system, which keeps the working class stuck in their positions. Clyde is an amputee, who despite his difficulty, is one hell of a bartender. Mellie is a hairdresser, albeit with a penchant for, and a knowledge of, big, fast cars. These are all people who do their best with the hand they are dealt, and they are so rarely dealt a winning hand. Finally fed up with pre-existing conditions, unfair treatment, money grubbing corporations, and living from paycheck to paycheck, the Logans act. Maybe impetuously, maybe foolishly, but they pull themselves up by their bootstraps and act.
Much like other heist films, there is a plan in place. Given what the film shows the audience, it’s not much of a plan. There is no fancy computer driven slide show. No movie stars to guide us through the plan in voiceover. Instead, we get a list written in sharpie, hung on the refrigerator door for all to see. Included in this technology bereft list are items such as, “Shit Happens,” and “Shit Happens Again.” This is a large part of the joy of Logan Lucky. It is a construction worker in a bank robber’s outfit. Best of all, unlike other heist movies, we are never sure that these folks will succeed. Are they actually lucky? Is there a hidden brains of the operation? Or are they obviously destined to fail? Think back. Did you ever expect Clooney and Pitt to fail? Even for a second? No chance of that. The Logans are comically unlucky, to the point of people in town calling them cursed.
And let’s talk about the curse. On the surface, the Logans are an unlucky family. None of them have made it. Failed marriages, missing limbs, unemployment, you name it. But if you delve deeper, the curse is not really about the Logans at all. What do all of the Logans have in common, besides their name? Poverty. Again, these are not people with obvious marketable skills. They are trying, and failing repeatedly, to get out from behind the 8 ball. This heist isn’t for fun, or boredom, or “one last score.” It’s a last ditch effort to get ahead for once. Poverty is a cycle, it doesn’t end even with a person’s death. Poverty tends to be passed on from generation to generation, unless a drastic change happens. This desperation to make a change is what we see from the Logans. Yes, it’s done in a clever and comic fashion, but never forget that these are not people meant to be mocked. These are good people in terrible situations, who are taking a real risk. And who do they end up taking that risk against? A giant mega corporation full of suits who are cashing in on people like the Logans. As we see in the film, this corporation does not give a damn about the people, or even seeing justice done after a robbery. It is all about image, and of course, getting some money back. It all boils down to the almighty dollar. Logan Lucky, on the other hand, is about the people. It is trying (and maybe failing) to strike a blow for the little guy.
The people they are representing was my biggest worry when walking into the theater. I was afraid that, as advertised, it was just a redneck Ocean’s 11. I was terrified that it would be chock full of terrible accents and your standard dumb southerners. There is nothing to be afraid of here. The characters, even with names as silly as Joe Bang, are fully realized. We understand why these men and women are taking the risks they are, and none of these reasons more palpable or affecting than Jimmy’s daughter. Smartly, Soderbergh emblematizes this relationship with a song. A song that not only symbolizes family, but home. And not just any home, but West Virginia. It is the second major summer release that has used Country Roads as a plot point, and certainly the most emotionally effective version is in Logan Lucky. Due to the fullness of these characters, If Ocean’s 11 (and 12 and 13) are about slickness and cool movie stars succeeding, then Logan Lucky is about heart, family, and rising above what is expected. There are obviously moments of comic relief, but for once, the rednecks are the honest to goodness heroes.
Do not be fooled by the marketing and clever internet articles calling Logan Lucky a remake of Ocean’s 11. Despite many similarities; plot points, director, genre; again, it is not what you think. If anything, Logan Lucky is the anti-Ocean’s 11. These folks aren’t as smart, as hip, or as suave as Danny and his cohort. And depending on how you read the film, they may not have even succeeded in the end. But if there is an audience that feels that the Ocean’s films (and others like them) are too slick, too cool, or too distant, Logan Lucky is the answer for that audience. It is rare that a genre film can truly surprise. Those movies are special. Logan Lucky is special.
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