Steven Soderbergh’s new heist movie exists primarily as a middle finger to the studio system. Soderbergh had previously said that he was retired from making movies, focused instead on making TV. He did so because he was frustrated by the Hollywood system and with Logan Lucky he aimed to buck traditional distribution.
Unfortunately for him that plan doesn’t seemed to have paid off because, despite reviewing very well, Logan Lucky is a bomb. It has not yet made back its $29 million production budget, getting hammered at the box office by The Hitman’s Bodyguard and other movies over the course of some historically low movie weekends.
But, ignoring all that, how is Logan Lucky, a heist movie about robbing a racetrack in West Virginia, on its own merits?
It’s OK. It’s a disappointment because of the talent involved, I really feel like this should have been better. The actors in it are all good and give good performances (With the exception of one little girl but I’ll get to her) but there’s a real sense I get here of a very talented filmmaker just going through the motions. What buoys it are very good, small comedic scenes around the edges and the performances, particularly Adam Driver I think is excellent.
Let’s talk about a weird thing around the movie: the internet’s theory that the credited writer, Rebecca Blunt, doesn’t really exist and is just a nom de plume for Soderbergh himself. Or possibly his wife, or a friend of his wife or some other writer. The point being that speculation is rampant with no evidence or information about who she really is.
Soderbergh says she totally exists and has taken offense at the aggressive way that people have been ready to discredited a first time female screenwriter. The thing is that when you watch the movie it’s so full of Soderbergh’s bullshit. There are whole scenes that are only in there as middle fingers to Hollywood. This doesn’t feel like a script from promising new writer, it feels like another Soderbergh movie. Even if Blunt does exist her presence on this film is completely swallowed up.
A big thing about Logan Lucky that makes it feel kinda hollow is that the Appalacia of this movie doesn’t feel authentic. Heist movies are easy to latch onto the making movies metaphor, and in that context all the lowbrow apprehension towards technology and pop culture feels like old man bullshit. Whether it’s talking about “The twitters” or Tatum’s character not wanting a cell phone or most egregiously his scoffing at the Fast and the Furious franchise.
So when the movie then reaches its emotional climax with Tatum’s daughter at a beauty contest singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” poorly as the crowd sings along (for some reason) it doesn’t work for me at all. The emotional core that does work for me is between Tatum and Driver, and that’s almost entirely just on the strength of their performances. Their bond is understated and effective whereas the subplot with Tatum’s daughter starts awkwardly and then becomes maudlin by its climax.
To me, Soderbergh’s message to Hollywood seems to be along the lines of: “Look you idiots, this isn’t hard. You’re overcomplicating all of this. Look how easily I can deliver what the people want. A heist with some structure, a little twist, some feels and we’re good to go.” The only thing I get out of this movie that Soderbergh really wanted to say was to say fuck you to Hollywood. As a result this movie feels pretty cynical to me and if I were fighting against Hollywood I would be fighting against cynical sentimentality as much as anything.
So while it’s well crafted, and the edges smooth it all out, this is anything but a breathe of fresh air to me. I hear the cries of superhero fatigue and the nostalgic longing for the mid-tier movies of yore, but Spider-Man: Homecoming felt more original and fresh than this heist movie. Youthful enthusiasm over old man bitching (at least in this case).
I know it has a terrible reputation but I actually find Ocean’s 12, Soderbergh’s weird anti-heist movie, more compelling (Though that’s only with age and hindsight. i hated that movie at the time.). If you’re going to make a movie about movies that has no reverence for movies, go weird and don’t play to formula. Ocean’s 12 goes out of its way to not give the audience what they want and at least that results in something different.
Logan Lucky is OK. But given the talent involved it feels like a let down and a wasted opportunity. It’s just not as good as it should be and most of what I’ve been going through here has just been trying to explain and break down that simple feeling. Again, a lot of the jokes at the edges are really funny. There’s one Game of Thrones joke that feels like it’s too long but then it keeps going and it turns out no, that was the right choice.
Actually length is a big thing here because I think this could have been cut down into a much leaner more effective film. The movie feels the need to show us all the fallout from after the heist, but all we really need to see is Driver’s new arm; everything else is chaff.
Now if you want to see a movie about making movies that’s apart from the studio system, full of youthful energy and completely weird and great: go track down Brigsby Bear. (Review coming soon)