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Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough
Review by Simon Ramshaw.
Returning after one of the shortest retirements in the history of retirements, Steven Soderbergh takes it easy and slides back into first gear while rolling by some familiar territory. No stranger to heist movies (any of the Ocean’s films), broad humour (Magic Mike) and light political subtext (Magic Mike again, believe it or not), Soderbergh knows what fuels his films, and his NASCAR crime caper Logan Lucky might just be the thing that lets us look under his career’s chassis.
Taking serious tonal inspiration from the work of Joel and Ethan Coen, Soderbergh and writer Rebecca Blunt weave the tall tale of the Logans, a downtrodden West Virginia family who can’t seem to catch a break. Older brother Jimmy (Channing Tatum, gaining between 35 and 40 pounds for the role) is fired from his engineering job after his bosses spot his limp, his younger brother Clyde (a superbly droll Adam Driver) is constantly mocked for his missing hand and their long-suffering sister Mellie (new Soderbergh collaborator Riley Keough) is always left to pick up the pieces of their messy lives. Things begin to speed and hot up for the (seemingly) dim-witted family after Jimmy hatches a mad-cap scheme to rob their local NASCAR speedway with the help of the Bang brothers, led by a surprisingly self-deprecating Daniel Craig. Ocean’s-esque hijinks ensue as the families face problems both totally absurd and crushingly relatable.
For me, the problem with Soderbergh has always been his disconcertingly austere stylisations that seem to apply to whatever genre he works in. In turn an ambitious filmmaker and also one who likes to kick back and relax every now and again, Soderbergh’s visual style of static, shallow-focused close-ups and sharp, Scorsese-esque editing is often the main connecting tissue of his oeuvre. Yet this isn’t the most comical of approaches, and got in the way of the first Magic Mike film being the raunchy comedy classic taking itself with a pinch of salt.
Thankfully, Blunt’s well-structured, well-paced script is well suited to Soderbergh’s directorial precision, and the director’s habit of attracting a starry ensemble elevates the material to often hilarious heights. Soderbergh draws another understated performance from lovable hunk Channing Tatum, and Daniel Craig’s bleach-blonde explosives expert is a minor revelation, but (not for the first time) Adam Driver steals the show from the sidelines. There’s just something about Driver’s non-traditional looks and bass tones that allow him to breathe a strange, off-kilter life into any character, and Clyde Logan is no exception to the rule.
Even Soderbergh, being the sensible filmmaker that he is, allows himself to go completely wacky at certain points. There’s a throwaway (possibly supernatural) scene that wouldn’t look amiss in this summer’s Twin Peaks revival, and there’s a good minute and a half dedicated to the intricate differences between HBO’s Game of Thrones and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. But while he still stops to indulge in some irreverent moments, Soderbergh still mines deep into the secret black heart of America; its characters are marginalised after their dedicated service to their behemoth motherland, and yet people are offended when they try to take something back from its dumbest, most exploitative pastime. Soderbergh’s dig at the entertainment system may not be the most subtle, but it certainly is effective as it applies an extra layer of fulfilment to an already pleasant summer trifle.
While not quite the cinematic head rush that Magic Mike XXL was (which Soderbergh didn’t direct, but was involved directly enough for that to be my favourite of his works), Logan Lucky is a very likeable U-turn away from the bombastic blockbusters of the summer and sets a route straight towards 2017’s easy-going autumn months.