' Cinema Romantico: Logan Lucky

Monday, August 28, 2017

Logan Lucky

Having made both “Out of Sight” and “Ocean’s Eleven”, Steven Soderbergh is no stranger to the heist picture. Yet if both films centered on robbers and the robberies they committed, they were underpinned by elements that equally intrigued their auteur, like “Out of Sight’s” emphasis on human behavior and “Oceans Eleven’s” devotion to style, not to mention the underrated, superior “Ocean’s Eleven” sequel’s fascination with modes of storytelling. The apparently un-retired director’s new film, meanwhile, “Logan Lucky”, concerns a heist of the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a massive Memorial Day race so comprehensive and convoluted that it requires one of those clarifying late-movie montages in which every detail of the caper is re-visited from a different perspective. And yet, this sequence is conspicuously scored to “Fortunate Son”, Credence Clearwater Revival’s anti-war screed against the upper class, marking this montage as the moment when the heist and the film’s social undercurrent gloriously merge to reveal “Logan Lucky” as less an exercise in genre than a comically ferocious parable in which a few semi-ordinary West Virginia joes get what’s theirs.


This is not to suggest that Soderbergh overdoes the grit. Far from it, as he forgoes any vérité for delightfully effective linear editing combined with images that are not grainy and washed out but bursting with color, underscoring both the colorfulness of the “Logan Lucky’s” characters and how the film forgoes romanticizing their hard times to provide the dignity of joy and purpose. Life may have been unlucky to Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver) Logan with, respectively, a football career cut short by injury and an Iraq war injury that left him without his left hand, but they are not about to let this ill luck define them. When a smug British Energy Drink magnate and NASCAR sponsor, Max Chilblait, played by Seth MacFarlane, putting to maximum use his vaunted unlikableness, enters Clyde’s bar and orders a martini with the air of a man who assumes the redneck simpleton serving him doesn’t know how to make one, Driver has Clyde go about his business with an air of take-this professionalism.

Assumptions of these West Virginians are dangerous. Though Jimmy being laid off and in danger of losing part-time custody of his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) might suggest impulsiveness, the scheme is far from reckless. Indeed, the characters’ thick accents, including Jimmy and Clyde’s hairdressing sister Mellie (Riley Keough), the getaway driver of sorts, and a character in need of more screen time, belie serious smarts, a deliberate squashing of a readymade stereotype. The broadest accent of all, in fact, belongs to Daniel Craig, playing the aptly named Joe Bang, an explosives expert the Logans bust out of prison just for a day to help, and Craig absolutely relishes this drawl, intoning the word “In-carc-e-rated” with such syllable-specific panache that he seems to preemptively sending up anyone who tries to make fun of it.

Craig, frankly, doesn’t have enough fun at the movies and here he truly cuts loose, though he never transforms into caricature, just as “Logan Lucky” never condescends to him, perhaps most hilariously emblemized when Joe Bang spells out a complicated chemical equation, delivered by Craig with a droll kinda “duh”, to a taken aback Jimmy and Clyde. This avoidance of arrogance trickles down to NASCAR, a culture ripe for parody that Soderbergh only honors, never more so than the cameo of LeAnn Rimes singing the national anthem at the race running concurrently with the heist.

Some of us might wonder in a broader sense about the mingling of nationalism with sports, but the movie is less interested in deconstructing that then simply presenting this world, this place, these people, as they are, and it takes them seriously. The one person who doesn’t, frankly, is the track’s general manager, seen post-heist reveling in his insurance payout, as if counteracting any notion of rural America Robin Hoods, which he does with a big screen TV looming over his shoulder replaying the pre-race festivities as a giant American flag is unfurled, underlining who he’s screwing.


This idea of administrative overlords almost always having the upper hand connects to the prison, from which Joe Bang has escaped and which will help in its own elaborate way to ensure the robbery goes off. This lockup is overseen by a warden (Dwight Yoakam) who is entirely indifferent to his inmates, as well as the only place we see black characters, which is not cruelly accidental but a deliberate nod to the state’s African-American incarceration rate, just as Joe Bang purposely drinking contaminated water to make him sick to engender the escape is a deliberate nod to state’s water crisis, just as Katherine Waterston’s brief appearance as a mobile medic is not a sad attempt at grafting on a love interest for Jimmy but a deliberate nod to the state’s opioid epidemic, all little details stitching together a fabric of contemporary America.

All these details taken as a whole might paint a pretty bleak portrait, which is why Sodergbergh's overall amusing aesthetic is so crucial to the proceedings, refusing to relent and wallow. Look no further than Joe Bang, on the lam and in the midst of pilfering $14 million but insistent on taking a few bucks to buy a couple beers. It’s a little thing, a throwaway, one another filmmaker might not think to include, and that Soderbergh does says everything. As LeeAnn Rimes belts out “The Star-Spangled Banner”, Joe Bang pauses to pay attention and toss back his cold ones, a crystallization of the America that “Logan Lucky” so impeccably captures, paying devout respect to where he comes from even as he steals a few moments for self-care.

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