Logan Lucky (2017)
Written by Rebecca Blunt
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Jimmy Logan is the latest in a long family history of bad luck West Virginians. He’s just been fired from his job working as part of the crew patching sinkholes under the Charlotte Motor Speedway and finds out his ex is moving out of state with their daughter. Jimmy can’t afford a lawyer to get partial custody, so he devises a plan. With the help of his brother, sister, incarcerated explosives expert Joe Bang, and a few others Jimmy is going to steal millions right out from underneath the Speedway, that is if the Logan family curse doesn’t get in the way first.
Steven Soderbergh is a director who I just haven’t ever been able to figure out. He is a contemporary of the Coens, and they share some cinematic DNA, but unlike the Coens he doesn’t seem to have a fixed style or tone. Looking at his prolific body of film, Soderbergh careens abruptly from non-commercial experimental films to crowd-pleasing movies about the little guy. He is one of the few prominent name directors who is still fiercely independent, Logan Lucky was released through his own company with big movie studios only coming into play in regards to international distribution. There is a high affinity for “working class” people through his work. Everything from The Informant! to Magic Mike to The Girlfriend Experience to Logan Lucky, it all focuses on people in the context of their work, and more often low earning or service workers. The themes of the working class struggling against a cold economic system are artfully hidden beneath a very crowd pleasing and fun exterior.
Jimmy and his brother Clyde are both veterans of post-9/11 overseas wars. Jimmy earned a limp and Clyde came home with an artificial hand. It is Jimmy’s limp that is the impetus of the entire heist when Human Resources for the construction company he works with states that it is a pre-existing condition that creates liability in the workplace. Clyde is mocked and disrespected in the very bar he tends over his disability. There is little sense that beyond saying they support the troops that the culture around these brothers actually does. The introduction of the Logan curse is an extension of the ideas that surround cycles of poverty and economic destitution. If you have watched the television series Shameless, it does an excellent job of showing the treadmill nature of debt. Low-income families are continually working and hustling with little or no result to show due to how poverty is baked into the system.
The acting in the film walks that thin line between farce and reality so that it never feels like these characters are being mocked. Humor is derived from deadpan reactions and the absurdity of characters’ decisions in the face of dramatic tension. Dwight Yoakam plays a small part as a prison warden in denial that anything bad ever happens at his prison. It takes a fire for him to finally reach out for external help when dealing with a prisoners’ strike. Later, when the formal reports about the fire are brought up, he minimizes the truth by claiming it was a simple kitchen fire. This character is profoundly representative of figures who are not at the top of the hierarchy of power, but who have invested so much of themselves into maintaining the structure that they will blatantly lie as an act of “morality.”
In the film, the heist is referred to in news reports as “Ocean’s 7/11, ” and that is a very apt description for Logan Lucky. Soderbergh eschews any sort of intellectual pretensions to tell a very human and emotional story, yet he doesn’t shy away from including themes about economics and a critique of the American military using the desperation of the poverty class to fuel their wars. He’s one of the few independent voices out there who can manage to weave this complicated tapestry without coming across as a didactic lecturer. It’s a perfect marriage of indie filmmaking and broad audience appeal.