Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky

“It seems, at first, like an impossible caper,” begins Jordan Hoffman, writing for the Guardian. “Can Steven Soderbergh bring something new to the heist genre after his outstanding Oceans trilogy? The answer, as always, is to have faith in the director-producer-writer-cinematographer-editor-brandy salesman whose ingenuity has kept him one step ahead of audiences for almost 30 years.”

“A silly movie by a serious man who’s refused to become a self-important artist, Logan Luckywants you to think of it as minor Soderbergh,” writes David Ehrlich at IndieWire. “The premise alone, so obviously a Trump country riff on Soderbergh’s biggest film that one character straight up uses the phrase ‘Ocean’s 7-11,’ is enough to position this low-key heist comedy as little more than a joy ride around a familiar track. But if Logan Lucky begs you not to take it seriously, that doesn’t mean it lacks real soul.”

“It’s a let’s-rob-the-racetrack heist comedy set in that all-American place that even rednecks would have no problem calling redneck country,” writes Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, “the land of NASCAR and child beauty pageants, spangly long fingernails and roadside biker-bar brawls, and—these days being what they are—chronic unemployment and spiritual stagnation. (Hey, nothing’s perfect.) The script, by Rebecca Blunt (it’s her first, and it’s a beauty), exploits the Southern gift for turning something as basic as a series of freeway directions into a tall tale. And Soderbergh, directing his first feature in four years (his last one was the superb HBO Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra), plays, with an invisible wink, off the natural-born comedy of mile-wide drawls that veer from the charmingly folksy into a kind of good-ol’-boy theater.”

Speaking of Behind the Candelabra (2013), at the Playlist, Drew Taylor reminds us of what Soderbergh’s been doing during his retirement ever since. For starters, “he shot, edited, and directed two entire seasons of Cinemax’s overlooked medical drama The Knick, directed an off-Broadway play called The Library, edited and shot male stripper sequel Magic Mike XXL, and released a series of weird fan edits of famous films, including Heaven’s Gate and 2001: A Space Odyssey, plus Psychos, a mirrored mash-up of both Alfred Hitchcock’s original film and Gus Van Sant’s remake.” As for Logan Lucky, Taylor gives it an A.

“The Logans of the title are West Virginia brothers Jimmy [Channing Tatum] and Clyde [Adam Driver], who have a reputation in their small town for being luckless souls who have been dealt a bad hand,” explains Screen’s Tim Grierson. “Together with their hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough), they team up with incarcerated bomb expert Joe Bang [Daniel Craig] to hit a popular local NASCAR race in the midst of the event to steal the speedway’s massive cash haul.” And “despite the humor Soderbergh and his ensemble derive from these blue-collar, sometimes bumbling characters, the film’s heroes are far from backwoods caricatures, instead displaying plenty of smarts and soulfulness.”

“It’s an easy-enough game of spot-the-predecessor,” finds Nick Newman at the Film Stage: “the heist mechanics of an Ocean’s movie, the working-class struggle of a Magic Mike, and, first most riskily and then most fascinatingly, the procedural iciness of a Side Effects or Contagion. The reward is watching Soderbergh waltz with a deceptively loose style so thought-through that it’s baked into the movie’s bones.”

“Tatum brings a sweetness to his moments with his young daughter (Farrah Mackenzie),” writes Erin Oliver Whitney at ScreenCrush. “Driver is excellent as Clyde, a one-armed bartender who refuses to be pitied, swiftly pulling off his prosthetic to scare the obnoxious celebrity (Seth MacFarlane) who insults him. Keough is perfectly cast as Mellie, Katie Holmes plays Jimmy’s wine-guzzling ex-wife, Hilary Swank is great in a cameo as a determined FBI agent, and Katherine Waterston shows up for a pair of too-brief scenes as an old high school flame.”

“As with The Knick, you can see a filmmaker trying to find the most economical and creative way to cover each scene,” writes Matt Prigge for Metro US. “He’s resourceful and imaginative, filming scenes from striking angles, using longish takes to stretch out the deadpan yuks.” Lucky Logan is “a purely auteur-driven lark slipped into an era when studios no longer want to work with directors with personality and pesky calls for final cut—a high entertainment with a handmade feel.”

“Soderbergh has made the sort of breezy, unpretentious, just-for-fun film that scarcely exists anymore, one almost anyone could enjoy,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy.

“Good gravy, this movie is a good time,” adds Mike Ryan at Uproxx.

Update, 8/1: “After years of shooting my mouth off about absolute creative control, we’re going to attempt to do it,” Soderbergh tells Brooks Barnes in the New York Times. “The question is this. Can you do what the studios normally do from a wide distribution standpoint, only with a lot fewer resources—spending on marketing—and with a much better economic structure for the people who actually made the film?”

Update, 8/10: Talking with Soderbergh for the New York Times,Dave Itzkoff finds that “deadly serious when he says he is never going back to making the films he used to. ‘I’ve really lost my interest as a director—not as a producer or viewer—in anything that smells important,’ he said. ‘It just doesn’t appeal to me at all anymore. I left that in the jungle somewhere.’” That’s a reference to Che (2008), “a scramble to finance,” notes Itzkoff, “and a slog to shoot.”

Update, 8/13: Writing for the Los Angeles Times,Jeffrey Fleishman traces a lineage from Hal Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit (1977) to Logan Lucky: “Both movies cleverly explore a South that often feels maligned by a Hollywood it sees as sensitive to minorities, gays, immigrants, extraterrestrials and anyone who’s not white, doesn’t go to Bible study or speak with a drawl. [Burt] Reynolds’s Bandit and Tatum’s Jimmy Logan defy perception and are wiser than the joke aimed at them.”

Updates, 8/15: “Its sense of economic anxiety has more in common with Magic Mike and The Girlfriend Experience, two sharp stories about selling sex during a recession,” writes Jesse Hassenger at the A.V. Club. “Logan Lucky’s timing and less provocative subject matter could have easily turned it into a condescending paean to white, rural anger in the Trump era. But while Soderbergh’s touch has often been described as chilly—all of that careful color-coding and trim, precise camera movement—he shows real warmth toward his characters here.”

These “characters share a general sense of downward mobility and disillusionment with the American dream,” writes Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed, “but there's no more effort put into demonization of their targets than there is a Hillbilly Elegy-style castigation of the Logans. Choosing a setting like Logan Lucky's is practically a politically charged act in itself these days—here's a serious slice of Trump country, complete with noneuphemistic economic anxiety! But the closest the film gets to showing its hand in that regard is only in how little it bothers making a case as to why we should root for the crime it's depicting to be successful. The people the Logans are robbing have lots of money, and they have next to none. What else needs to be said?”

Updates, 8/17: “Of the three movies released this summer that self-consciously reactivate an old-school outlaw mythology—the others are Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver and Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time—this one has the most to say and the least to prove,” argues A. O. Scott in the New York Times. “Whereas the other directors aggressively promote their own coolness, flaunting borrowed attitudes and showy retrofitted styles, Mr. Soderbergh revels in squareness, and in a loose self-confidence that disguises its mastery. Logan Lucky is a terrific movie. That’s a matter of skill, and maybe also of luck. But mostly it’s a matter of generosity.”

And Time’s Stephanie Zacharek adds that “the most underrated tool for assessing the worth of a movie is generosity of spirit: How does a filmmaker treat his characters, and what do those characters’ actions say about the world at large?” Logan Lucky “is one of the director’s most exuberant pictures. It’s also one that doesn’t take the best impulses of humankind for granted.”

But for Sean Nelson, writing for the Stranger, “the red state drag show that Soderbergh has convened here feels not merely unconvincing, but a tiny bit uncomfortable, too. That is to say: a bunch of fantastically talented and beautiful movie stars working really hard to seem at home in NASCAR America, where the American flag battles camo for fashion primacy, where people play toilet seat horseshoes, and an interminably melismatic rendition of ‘America the Beautiful’ by LeAnn Rimes as Blue Angels roar overhead brings grown men to tears. It's a stretch.”

“Soderbergh doesn’t make important movies—he makes good ones.” K. Austin Collins for the Ringer: “And a movie like Logan Lucky succeeds in part because it’s wonderfully told, with Soderbergh’s trademark knack for collapsing exposition until it feels intellectually abstract, like we’re watching peoples’ thoughts and actions—the plans they dream up and the plans they carry out—get collapsed into the same moment.”

“I don’t care how many dramas he does, Driver’s angular face and protruding ears are built for laughs,” writes April Wolfe in the Village Voice. “Sometimes, the only reason for doing anything is to have a little fun, and Soderbergh seems to be having a lot of it.”

For Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey,Logan “would be a fabulously funny and endlessly entertaining summer treat no matter who was making it—though it’s hard to imagine anyone making it as well as Soderbergh.”

In the Austin Chronicle,Kimberley Jones mentions “two helicopters touching down in the speedway in the far background of the frame, in a stunning shot crafted by Soderbergh but officially credited to his cinematographer (pseudonym Peter Andrews) that—hand to my cineaste heart—made me purr with pleasure.”

“It’ll never make us forget about Smokey and the Bandit,” writes Kelly Vance in the East Bay Express, “but not solely for the reason that Tatum is no Burt Reynolds. Soderbergh’s situations, as always, appear overly studied. But there are a few scattered splinters of delight.”

“Earlier in his career one might have looked to Soderbergh to aim higher than a ’70s-style caper film that could have been a vehicle for Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed,” writes Robert Horton for the Seattle Weekly, “but if you’re going to make that kind of movie, this is exactly the way you want to make it.”

Logan Lucky feels like a Coen brothers movie, down to its fairly cartoonish view of life in West Virginia,” writes David Sims for the Atlantic, adding that it’s “yet another of Soderbergh’s wonderful ensemble pieces, one that should stand out in the cinematic doldrums of August.”

Updates, 8/18:Logan Lucky is not a deep or particularly original film and isn't trying to be,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz at “And a couple of characters who are introduced with great fanfare (notably a clinic worker played by Katherine Waterston, and an FBI agent played by Hilary Swank who snarls like Clint Eastwood) don't make as much of an impression as they should. But it's precision-tooled entertainment made by experts, and sometimes more than that. Watching it is like finding money in the pocket of a coat that you haven’t worn in years.”

“I’m guessing that Soderbergh was as surprised as everyone else by these nutbirds,” writes David Edelstein at Vulture. “Even this control freak must once in a while long to let go.”

“The film has the tossed-off, casual sophistication of an old master’s late work, the kind of thing great directors make when they’ve already forgotten more than a lot of filmmakers will ever know,” writes Sean Burns for WBUR. “In fact, Logan Lucky reminded me most of Howard Hawks’s El Dorado, in which the director basically just re-made his immortal Rio Bravo a few years later because it was a good story he felt like telling again. I’d be happy to hear this one as many more times as Soderbergh wants to tell it.”

Logan Lucky is a film that invites everyone to identify with its little-guys-against-the-system heroes in a vaguely anti-authoritarian, us vs. them, Smokey and the Bandit kind of way,” writes Michael Smith. “As an entertainment, it succeeds admirably: it’s a fun movie about people having fun, full of juicy performances and great visual and verbal wit.”

“A son of the south now living in New York City, Soderbergh knows both sides of the red-blue divide, and Logan Lucky represents one hell of a balancing act,” writes J. R. Jones in the Chicago Reader. “You might say that Soderbergh sees the nation whole, and his vision of a laidback, clued-in Dixie offers a hopeful vision. Or you might say that he wants to make a shitload of money on this project. I suspect it's the latter, but I hope it's the former, if only because Soderbergh knows how to craft a movie that a lot of people will understand.”

“When historians come to tell the tale of the Trumpian epoch, and of confused cultural attitudes toward the heartland, Logan Lucky will be part of the evidence,” writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker.

“When it comes to surprises, there may be no bigger one in Logan Lucky than Craig, who here delivers a madly cackling, physically robust tour-de-force,” writes Nick Schager for the Daily Beast. “Freed from his famous dapper-and-brutish 007 role, Craig seems downright liberated by these backwoods environs.”

Updates, 8/19: “What Soderbergh understands and revels in, as working-class hero Andy Warhol did,” writes Nick Pinkerton for Artforum, “is the fact that authentic, homespun American life is shot through with a generous dose of artifice—artificial sweeteners and colors that appear nowhere in nature. Soderbergh is acting as his own DP here under his usual ‘Peter Andrews’ pseudonym, shooting on a RED digital camera with Leica Summilux-C lenses, and these give his widescreen frame—invariably teeming with bright life and incident—an ultra-sharp, pellucid, almost glassy deep focus unlike anything in classic, grain-rich 35mm Cinemascope. In constructing his contemporary Appalachia, Soderbergh gets a sense of everyday life that’s bigger than life. He has, somewhat perversely, made a drive-in movie for the hi-def age.”

For Little White LiesDavid Jenkins, “while the film derives from such a lovable and louche lineage as 1972’s The Hot Rock, 1973’s The Sting, and even Soderbergh’s own exemplary Out of Sight, from 1998, it also recalls Robert Altman’s scintillating 1975 fresco charting the overlap between culture and politics in the American south, Nashville. With this film too, the south isn’t just a context or a handy backdrop on which the machinations play out—it is the movie.”

At The Ringer, you’ll find not only an annotated list, “Steven Soderbergh’s Movies, Ranked,” but also:

  • Rob Harvilla on Out of Sight (1998), the film that tops the list.
  • K. Austin Collins on Contagion (2011), “an epic in miniature.”
  • Adam Nayman on Haywire (2011), “a B-movie scattered with A-list movie stars cast as ciphers.”

“So about Logan Lucky: I knew in the first shot that I was going to love this movie,” Amy Taubin tells Steven Soderbergh during her interview with him for Film Comment. “I call it the three-shot rule,” says Soderbergh. “After the first three shots, I know whether this person knows what they’re doing or they don’t.”

Updates, 8/20: For Rolling Stone,Tim Grierson presents “a Heist Movie 101: our foolproof point-by-point breakdown of how to make the perfect crime film, using Logan Lucky as a case study.”

And Eliana Dockterman presents Time’s annotated list of the twenty-five “Best Heist Movies,” while Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey revisits the ten “Best Heists in Movie History.”

Update, 8/22: Writing for the Notebook, Jeremy Carr suggests that “what connects Howard Hawks and Steven Soderbergh is their uniform consistency, not necessarily in terms of year-after-year quantity, but rather film-after-film quality.” Logan Lucky “efficiently and enjoyably demonstrates Soderbergh’s capacity for narrative advancement, shifting tones, and aesthetic variance, all bound by a solid, seasoned expertise, and all without missing a beat.”

Update, 8/23:Tom Shone talks with Soderbergh for the Guardian: “As a kid raised in suburban Baton Rouge, Louisiana, there was nothing in my upbringing that would push me toward being interested in caper films, but I always was. And then I realized, literally a week ago, I think it’s because heists are so much like making a film. You’re getting a gang together, there are external forces beyond your control. This may work, this may not. You could end up in movie jail. And it’s important to remember that panic has never solved anything in the history of the world. The analogies are very clear—I don’t know why it took so long for me to see what was right in front of me.”

Updates, 8/27: “Soderbergh films the movie with swing, relishing the overlapping and intertwining strands of the complex plot, the brightly lit personalities of the characters it involves, and the magnificently conceived, essential tiny details that go into the realization of a grand and risky enterprise,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “What’s more, the film’s warm-hearted and good-humored ending delivers a devastatingly ironic sting with a delicate touch. Yet, for all its delights and ingenuities, Logan Lucky feels like a retread, a calculated effort to succeed by revisiting a formula that, for all the artistic power with which Soderbergh invests it, still feels formulaic—even if, in part, it’s his own formula.”

“Built on unlikely reversals, character quirks that deepen at each turn and a warmly empathetic embrace of its economically dismissed characters, Logan Lucky wears its kindly politics on its sleeve through all of the clockwork necessarily to exact the cockamamie heist,” writes Ray Pride in Newcity Film.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw finds Logan Lucky to be “funny, beguiling and smart, although it maybe doesn’t deliver the sugar rush of excitement achieved by Danny Ocean and his crew: sometimes the tempo is a little too like an unhurried, evenly paced country number when some bluegrass is in order.”

“Though the prison break and heist scenes are slickly and efficiently staged,” writes Simran Hans in the Observer, “the film’s great strength is its good nature.”

“There’s a lot to praise,” writes José Arroyo. “So why did it feel so slack and rambly to watch? This has been an interesting feature of quite a few of his recent films: Haywire,Contagion,Side-Effect. And yet there’s Behind the Candelabra when every shot is necessary and everything moves at a clip, hard to do in what is a character study, even such a flamboyant one. Odd.”

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