–By Nora Fitzgerald
I wanted this article to be titled “Ocean’s Hillbillies”. It’s a review of Steven Soderbergh’s latest, Logan Lucky. But he made that joke himself, or something close to it, in his own movie. It was a brief self-referential gag that suggested that this is a poor man’s Ocean’s Eleven (or Twelve, or Thirteen).
The members of the gang that pulls off this heist are not as stylish and slick as Ocean’s crew in their Italian suits and Beverly Hills haircuts. The movie takes place in North Carolina and West Virginia, and they plan to steal money from a NASCAR racetrack. So the characters are “white trash” and a few of them are cartoonish in that respect. (Although you might want to argue that all people drawn to be what is called white trash are cartoons.) But Channing Tatum, Katie Holmes and Adam Driver, the stars, are written with more depth than the characters played by George Clooney and Brad Pitt were given. What you learned about those two was that they could stroll through a casino with awesome cool.
The other star of Logan Lucky, Daniel Craig, (who is listed in the credits as being introduced to the world by this movie) offers a creditable local accent and a character both comical and worthy of respect. Welcome, sir, to America’s South. His two brothers, whom he insists be brought in to participate in the caper, are reminiscent of Darryl and Darryl from Bob Newhart’s show. Â
Logan Lucky follows the heist-film genre, and Soderbergh uses the standard extra-long tracking shots cutting from person to person, following them as they carry out their special assignments. There is music dubbed over the scenes, but not the cool Ocean variety. It’s Country and Western and rock-a-billy, and Lee Ann Rimes makes an appearance singing America the Beautiful where she belts out as many extra notes as she can muster. No, she’s not in on the job, she’s not creating a diversion for some elaborate, highly time-sensitive, operation to be carried out. It’s just a typical day at the NASCAR track, although America the Beautiful is not the expected song for today’s patriotic crowd, which prefers God Bless America. The movie does have some touches of class.
Other characters who show up in the movie include Dwight Yokam as a weary and mildly sadistic prison warden and Hillary Swank as a savvy and suspicious FBI agent.
Because there are a fair amount of personal stories being told, the first part of the movie drags at times. How are they going to steal the money, we’re wondering impatiently. Can these characters pull it off? The things you are starting to learn about the plan make it seem improbable and once they begin operations you see some miscalculations and a little buffoonery. But those backstories are going to come into play in the end and the story unfolds in an unexpected way.
There is a major feel-good ending and it’s spread out over a lot of people. I’d have been happy just to get something to counter a pitiful scene in the beginning where Channing Tatum leaves the racetrack, having just been fired because upper management got wind of his limp. The limp suggested to them a pre-existing condition they might have to pay to be treated. There’s an extended shot of his face as he drives sadly down the highway presumably thinking about the implications of losing his job and maybe access to his young daughter. But later you realize that this was where the cogs started turning in his brain as he contemplated ripping off the bastards.
Did I mention that Adam Driver’s character, his brother, is missing an arm from his military service in Iraq? Of course the missing arm is played for gags in a movie like this, but it contributes to one underlying theme in the movie, and that’s America’s injustice to its underclass. In Soderbergh’s Ocean movies the audience enjoys seeing the smart guys triumph over a greedy casino owner. Here, you see the little guys triumph over a much larger force that oppresses: corporate greed and indifference to the sacrifices made by our military veterans.
But, that having been said, there’s a personal dynamic between Logan and his brother that explains some things and, in the end, Logan is not just a victim who manages to overcome the cold realities of today’s economy. He’s a really decent guy who loves his little girl and the West Virginia mountains and NASCAR and doesn’t want to hurt anybody.