With apologies to Messrs. Agee and Evans -- Let Us Now Praise Steven Soderbergh, that rarest of Hollywood talents; the multi-faceted director. At age 54, this peripatetic writer, cinematographer, film editor and director has brought audiences nearly 40 films, ranging from bawdy comedies (Magic Mike) to intense dramas (Traffic) to brilliantly-constructed examples of pure cinematic escapism (Ocean’s Eleven). He’s one of only a handful of Hollywood filmmakers to move easily between the big and small screens, combining made-for-T.V. films (Behind the Candelabra) and series (The Knick) with his theatrical work. American audiences could use half a dozen more cut from his mold. In Logan Lucky, a slyly-knowing caper flick, Soderbergh assembles familiar faces from some of his recent movies in weaving the strands of an impossibly complex heist film featuring a group of redneck West Virginians who subvert the stereotypical image of blue collar America.
The director knows this slice of our population well; they favor patriotism, NASCAR, country music, guns, and hard work, epitomized here by Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) who looses his job as an excavator because a non-job related injury makes him a potential threat to his company’s insurance claim-wary personnel department. Out of work, divorced from his wife but anxious to retain close contact with his daughter Sadie, Jimmy enlists his militarily disabled brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and an incarcerated safe-cracker appropriately named “Joe Bang” (Daniel Craig) to knock-off the box-office take of a major Nascar Race in North Carolina.
The action is suffused with fast cars, road houses, lithe young women, a Junior Miss talent contest and an assortment of miscreants whose support the three principals need to pull off their hopelessly intricate scheme. Then having loaded the dice with this assortment of human cultural clichés, Soderbergh deliciously pulls the rug out from under the audiences’ expectations, gently mocking America’s patronizing attitudes about a segment of our society too often viewed with equal amounts of condescension and distain.
As Jimmy, Channing Tatum continues to build a career around roles that compliment his physique and beach-bum good looks. He’s a quiet presence here, comfortable in his strengths and shortcomings and deeply attached to his putative beauty queen Sadie. But it’s Adam Driver who steals the movie; his Clyde is the epitome of a “slow walkin’, slow talkin” son of the south whose shy demeanor masks insight and brainpower. It takes an actor of considerable talent to portray a character whose basic decency is masked by an apparent lack of ability; yet as LoganLucky progresses, it’s hard not cheer harder for Jimmy’s younger brother than for the master-mind himself.
Seth MacFarlane, Hilary Swank and Pikeville Kentucky’s own Dwight Yoakam head a cast delivering send-ups of “typical” rednecks. (Yoakam personifies the manner in which so many affluent Americans unconsciously denigrate the country and western segment of our society; his career includes significant success as a singer/songwriter as well as outstanding performances in films such as Wedding Crashers and the critically acclaimed Three Burials of Melquides Estrada.)
The Verdict? Logan Lucky gains velocity, complexity and momentum while careening towards a climax as satisfying as it is open ended. The results make for merciful relief from the comic book extravaganzas that have clogged American move screen all summer.
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