Following his HBO-produced film Behind The Candelabra, he stated for the record that he was done with filmmaking. It was a declaration that came with a grain of salt, and if my memory serves me well he's made similar sweeping statements previously. It's hogwash and I'll put these knee-jerk comments down to frustration and corporate mind-games (with a modest amount of ego for good measure). Nevertheless he's an important cinematic voice and any film that he makes immediately earns itself a level of anticipation.
His latest film is LOGAN LUCKY, and it sees him treading familiar ground. He personally describes it as “an anti-glam version of Oceans Eleven” and I am glad to know that he sees it as such, because watching the movie stirred up instant comparisons. Having directed three instalments of the Oceans series (with a 4th all-female instalment on the way) he is clearly standing on home soil and is comfortable with the genre... the result is a thoroughly entertaining heist movie that is as funny as it is gritty.
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) are two down-trodden brothers who believe that their family is cursed. Jimmy can't hold a job and Clyde had his arm blown off during his military service. When Jimmy is fired from his construction job at local Nascar speedway he schemes a plan to stage an elaborate heist during one of the venue's biggest race days. Enlisting the help of a renowned safe-cracker, a prisoner named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) they set about breaking him out of jail, robbing the venue and busting him back into jail again. It's a hair-brained plan that sees the three rednecks – along with Joe's two simple minded brothers and the Logan's sister – attempting a robbery that is, seemingly, too sophisticated for nobodies like them.
LOGAN LUCKY has Soderbergh's stamp all over it and his director's credit isn't necessary for discerning film geeks to recognise his style from the get-go. Shot with a modest touch, he captures the simple life of his West Virginian characters authentically. Their environment and circumstances are presented honestly, and despite their underprivileged surroundings there's an abundance of humour and affection invested in their existence. The character's lifestyles are never ridiculed yet their approach to life and their code of conduct is treated with humour and endearment.
The structure of the heist itself is lifted straight out of the book of Oceans, and the familiarity brings the audience into the fold without having to rely on an elaborate set-up or back story.
The cast is exceptional with Tatum, Driver and Craig giving equally brilliant performances. LOGAN LUCKY marks Tatum's fourth collaboration with Soderbergh following Haywire, Magic Mike and Side Effects and their rapport is obvious. I would expect that Tatum shook off his critics years ago, having notched up an impressive and respectable post-Step Up filmography, and I would hope that his performance in LOGAN LUCKY expelled whatever naysayers remained. His on-screen presence is captivating and he's just so damn likeable. Driver gives a wonderful turn as the simple-minded amputee brother, and his performance is my favourite of his to date. The less his character says, the more he emotes. He manages to say a lot with the simplest of expressions and his deliberately heavy-handed Virginian accent puts an added comic touch to an already comical story... and of course there's Craig. A show-stealing display to say the least. He twists his gruff and steely demeanour into a farcical dimwitted buffoon with such ease that it's almost impossible to imagine that he's also the guy who plays James Bond.
LOGAN LUCKY is certainly not Soderbergh's best film (my money is on Out Of Sight) but it's definitely not his worst either.. far from it (Oceans Twelve gets my vote). It's a praise-worthy comedy-thriller that comes at a time when car-themed crime films are commanding screens and dominating the box office. And to this, LOGAN LUCKY serves a greater purpose. It is Soderbergh's attempt to shake up the Hollywood system so that mid-budgeted films can see a greater return go towards the creatives, rather than the studio. Despite having spent his career skirting around the system, he's inevitably conceded to it with acclaimed films like Traffic and Erin Brockovich, and following his pre-maturely announced retirement he has returned with a business model that puts less emphasis on marketing and more focus on distribution. Whether or not his plan will pay off or, indeed, influence change remains to be seen... but his intensions are noble and he should be congratulated for taking the lead. LOGAN LUCKY is as good an example as any.