In 2013 director Steven Soderbergh released Behind the Candelabra which was supposed to be his swan song into retirement. But like any good director, there must be an unstoppable thrill when it comes to the perks of the job. You get to work with a talented number of actors and behind the scenes crew of diverse backgrounds, nationalities and skills to help realise your vision…if you’re lucky to oversee and control absolutely everything.
Steven Soderbergh hasn’t been shy about commenting on the internal operations of Hollywood. In 2013, he gave an insightful speech at the San Francisco International Film Festival about the state of cinema and the growing disparity between being a filmmaker battling against the rigid studio system in terms of economics, marketing budgets or studios playing around with safe profitable ideas instead of challenging themselves to be different.
His comments are an eye-opener to the uninformed. A lot of films released on the market are big budget, paint by the numbers and decided by committees and Soderbergh is one of the few directors out there that has enough directional control over his projects. While the success and failures of films can be viewed with various degrees of factors (something which he openly admits), Soderbergh shares a deep-lying frustration in how to express an idea without outside forces or economics affecting the production and release of that art. Setting up your own studio and gathering around the best directors in the business just to ask them one simple and liberating question would be the ideal. What is the question? What film would you like to make?
That’s where Logan Lucky comes into play. Soderbergh likes to experiment, breaking filmmaking rules to set a new challenging standard. It is an honest examination to see what would happen but his methodology could easily re-write the foundations of the industry. Logan Lucky is the first film to be distributed without a studio backing, effectively cutting them out of the process and entitling Soderbergh full creative control. While the studio tent pole releases are naturally designed to break opening day records, Soderbergh’s experiment opens the door for modest success as an ambitious new opportunity.
“I am in-car-ce-ra-ted” – Joe Bang
Welcome to the world of Logan Lucky where its nearest comparison in Soderbergh’s repertoire of work is Ocean’s Eleven but set in North Carolina. This is the ‘Hillbilly Heist’ (as the film calls it) where two brothers attempt to steal a hefty sum of money during a NASCAR race.
The remarkable thing about Logan Lucky is how it manages to be a social commentary on American values. This is not unfamiliar territory for Soderbergh. His film Side Effects explored the ethical morality of drugs, its effects and the industry itself.
This is an America that is a modernised corporate entity, fuelled by its own rules and self-obsessed standards. Like a by-product, the population becomes a materialistic spokesperson. We spew out brand names and their qualities like regurgitating an instruction manual (Moody Chapman played by David Denman), become living testimonies on diets and well-being structures to achieve the perfect harmonic body (Dayton White played by Sebastian Stan) or showcase our celebrity value by vocalizing how many followers we have on social media (Max Chilblain played by Seth McFarlane dressed like he’s Michael Jackson in ‘Thriller’ in one scene).
In Logan Lucky, these are the measurements of success, a multi-tiered social divide system where wealth and the appearance of wealth trumps everything else. You either get with the programme or you get left behind and these are the conditions that create the catalyst circumstances for Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum). In a topic that is socially relevant, Jimmy is fired from his construction job due to his insurance – the company labelling his knee injury from his once promising American football career as a “pre-existing condition” as justification to terminate his contract. This is despite the injury not affecting his ability to work. The personal circumstances only get worse when his ex-wife and her new husband deciding to move to Lynchburg which would affect his access to see his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie).
As much as Logan Lucky portrays Jimmy, his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and their sister Mellie (Riley Keough) as stereotypical simpletons, in actual essence Soderbergh paints them as the smartest people in the movie, almost reversing a pre-conceived conception. But it’s not done without the occasional mishap and laughter. The Game of Thrones joke is just priceless.
In a world where everything is high-tech and computerised, Soderbergh utilises a way in which the Logan family can best use their skillet – a return to traditional scheming. Like a throwback to films like The Sting and The Italian Job, the classic art of the heist is very simple involving misdirection, assumed identities, craftsmanship and keeping to a strict timeline of events. Logan Lucky is very much an old school caper taking advantage of a technological hindsight (as in not using it or disrupting it) with a Robin Hood analogy. Being left behind has its perks in an operation that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a 1930s film involving keystone cops. Even the trailer for this film feels like an homage to trailers out of that classic period.
In terms of characterisation, Logan Lucky is not as heavy-handed or in-depth as Soderbergh’s previous films. This is a light-hearted affair that appreciates the basics. There’s no need for exposition or meaningless dialogue. Just like how the film was distributed, Logan Lucky cuts straight to the chase. But what is insightful is the idea of ‘The Logan Curse’, this mystical belief which has destroyed opportunities for the Logan brothers. Jimmy Logan could have been an NFL star if it wasn’t for his injury. Clyde wouldn’t be at the end of Max’s tasteless jokes for having one arm despite serving in the military in the Iraq War. This dissociation within the community paints an attitude where good old-fashioned respect has been traded in for snark, insults and ignorance. The Logan family are simple-minded according to hearsay which only feeds into the perception of the curse – they’re not allowed good things. Therefore, the heist becomes more than just the money but a creditability to show that they are better than what others perceive them to be.
But there is a yearning for a simpler feel which comes in the form of Sadie. At each interval she undergoes a transformation, growing up too fast to compete in a school pageant. She becomes the living proof of the changing and battling values, a loss of innocence drastically changing into a highly beautified person. There must be something comforting about John Denver’s music to be reference in three films that came out this year – Free Fire, Alien: Covenant and now Logan Lucky with two of those films using the same song. Maybe it has something to do with the nostalgia in ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’. Maybe it recaptures a simple innocence of belonging, a place where you feel safe before things became commercialised and marketable. Or maybe it’s just a damn good song and everything is a coincidence. It is the state anthem for West Virginia! But its significance in one scene signifies how easy it is to get lost amongst the distractions of the swiping generation and to remind yourself of things that really matter.
There are many standouts in Logan Lucky but Daniel Craig as Joe Bang certainly catches the eye. James Bond is far away from the mindset and he looked like he had a fun time doing something so uniquely different.
Logan Lucky represents a welcomed return for Steven Soderbergh where I hope he never retires again. Filmmaking is about breaking the rules and it is always a fascination to see what he comes up with next.