J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky

It is not exactly Le Mans, but since it usually runs over four hours, the Coca-Cola 600 is easily the longest race of the NASCAR season. That’s a lot of time to spend money at the concessions. Hopefully, it will also give Jimmy Logan enough time to pull off an unlikely heist in Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky (trailer here), which opens today nationwide.

Logan thought he would claw his way out of border state poverty playing football, but when his knee blew out, he lost his scholarship. Work had been so scarce, he drove all the way into North Carolina for a construction gig, but he is fired by the cold-blooded HR department for not disclosing his limp. At least Logan got a good look around while he was on the job repairing sink-holes under Charlotte Motor Speedway. Turns out, there is a system of pneumatic tubes that takes money dropped at the registers directly into the vault. It is enough to give a fellow ideas.

If truth be told, the Logan family could use the money. According to his brother Clyde, there is a Logan family curse responsible for Jimmy’s knee and the hand he lost while serving in Iraq. So far, their sister Mellie has escaped the curse, but the beautician is hardly living on Easy Street. When his ex-wife serves notice of her intention to move further away with his beloved daughter Sadie, it creates a sense of urgency, so he hatches a scheme to knock over the Speedway. In additon to his siblings, Logan will also need the help of the only demolitions expert he knows. Unfortunately, bleach-blond Joe Bang is serving time in prison, with his parole imminently approaching, so the Logans will have to sneak him in and out of prison without anyone being the wiser.

Frankly, some of the cleverest parts of the scheme revolve around that secret prison break. Unlike most caper films since Rififi, Soderbergh and first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt do not immediately explain the full extent of their plan, opting instead to reveal it step-by-step, while the heist is already underway. Apparently, critics on both coasts are so obsessed with the Donald, nearly every review includes a condescending line to the effect of: “this is Trump country, but the Logans are surprisingly likable and dignified.” Conversely, no Western Virginian review of a Woody Allen movie would ever feel the need to observe: “when Upper-Eastsiders are not dining at Elaine’s, marrying their ex-wives’ adopted daughters, and hosting fundraisers for Hillary Clinton, they are just as insecure as the rest of us.”

Regardless who the Logans might have voted for, the suggestion Soderbergh treats them and their milieu with respect is indeed correct. Frankly, Channing Tatum and Adam Driver look more like real life siblings than any movie pairing since De Caprio and Carey Mulligan appeared as near-identical twins, Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann’s accidentally taboo take on the Great Gatsby. As Jimmy and Clyde Logan, they convey a sense of years of shared history and the shorthand that comes with such familiarity. When Tatum rolls his eyes at Driver’s talk of the curse, we feel like they have replayed this scene thousands of times before.

Yet, the most important relationship in the film is that between Jimmy and Sadie Logan. We can believe he would indeed risk his fabulous bachelor lifestyle to maintain their connection and possibly scratch out better futures for them both. A good deal of pre-release publicity has understandably focused on Daniel Craig’s drolly eccentric and muscularly swaggering performance as Joe Bang, but Riley Keough stands a chance of breaking through to Tatum’s level of fame through her work as the sassy but grounded Mellie. As a bonus, Hillary Swank and Blue Ruin’s Macon Blair nicely uphold the Twin Peaks-X-Files tradition of eccentric FBI agents in near cameos as the investigating Feds.

Lucky has a pleasantly genial vibe, but the stakes for the Logans are much higher than in Soderbergh’s Ocean films, which diegetic news reports slyly name-drop. There are definitely some clever bits, but more importantly, the film has real heart. Recommended for fans of caper movies and NASCAR, Logan Lucky opens today (8/18) across the country, including the AMC Empire in New York.

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