If you ever think, “I wonder how this movie would have looked without the watered-down movie studio treatment,” then get ready for Steven Soderbergh’s return to making feature films.
After a self-inflicted retirement of four years (his last feature film was 2013’s “Side Effects”), the Oscar winner gives us “Logan Lucky,” a movie that’s basically an indie version one of his biggest box office successes ever, the Las Vegas heist movie, “Ocean’s Eleven.”
This is not a knock on Soderbergh. I’m not trying to imply that he’s just going back to familiar territory. He’s the last person in Hollywood you could ever make that claim about. What I see in “Logan Lucky” is Soderbergh showing us that despite how much we loved it when Clooney and Pitt were running around outwitting the major Vegas casinos, it’s better when Channing Tatum and Adam Driver try to rip off one of NASCAR’s biggest races — with zero studio interference.
Always looking for a way to be in control of every aspect of his creations, Soderbergh has started the domestic distribution company, Fingerprint Releasing, and through a first-look deal with Amazon Studios, is looking to push out wide-release titles. “Logan Lucky” is the first, and he’s teaming up with distribution company Bleecker Street to release it on August 18.
And it certainly looks like he’s got a hit coming.
Tatum and Driver play the Logan brothers, Jimmy and Clyde. Born and bred in West Virginia, the two have suffered a lifetime of things going wrong. Jimmy was a high-school football star who was NFL bound, until his knee blew out. Clyde has always had his brother’s back, and it’s led to him going to prison, and losing his hand during a tour in Iraq. Convinced their family is cursed, Jimmy decides to change their luck. After being laid off at his latest job, he hatches a plan to rob all the cash that flows through the Charlotte Motor Speedway on race day.
Along with Clyde, they assemble their team for the job, which includes their sister Mellie (Riley Keough), and the best explosives man they know, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig).
Like every great heist movie, nothing goes according to plan, leading to some great thrills. But the movie, written by Rebecca Blunt, is also extremely funny. Tatum and Driver have some laugh-out-loud exchanges and Craig, who’s sporting a fantastic southern drawl, steals every scene he’s in.
You might be asking, “So how is this better than ‘Ocean’s Eleven’… or ‘Twelve’ … or ‘Thirteen’?”
Well, there’s a pace to the movie that most studio heads (and test audiences) just would not have the patience for. One of the movie’s subplots is Jimmy’s relationship with his ex-wife (Katie Holmes) and daughter. It’s an important component to the story, but would likely have been cut up into just a forgettable glance if this was made at the studio level.
And the third act brings in the investigator of the robbery (Hilary Swank), which also would have likely been slimmed down for fear of losing the audience.
But all these things give the story and characters a richness that betters the movie. Soderbergh — who absolutely hasn’t been sitting around doing nothing the last four years, as he directed two seasons of the acclaimed series “The Knick” — shows here that the melding of mainstream storytelling and artful execution is possible.
I’m thankful he’s back directing features, and can’t wait for the next ride he takes us on.
“Logan Lucky” opens in theaters August 18.