Logan Lucky hits the jackpot

Steven Soderbergh’s return to feature directing offers up sharp, smart storytelling and some note-perfect performances

LOGAN LUCKY (Steven Soderbergh). 119 minutes. Opens Friday (August 18). See listing. Rating: NNNN

What did Steven Soderbergh do after retiring from directing feature films in 2013? Well, he made Behind The Candelabra for HBO, shot two seasons of The Knick for Cinemax, produced Godfrey Reggio’s experimental feature Visitors and produced, shot and edited Magic Mike XXL. 

Also, I suspect he spent at least some of his downtime watching Letterkenny. 

There’s a streak of deadpan comedy that runs through Soderbergh’s new movie, Logan Lucky, that lines up very nicely with Jared Keeso’s cult Canadian TV comedy, from the surly/snappy family dynamic between West Virginia siblings Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Riley Keough to the dry humour that powers the entire venture, which makes an elaborate plan to rob a North Carolina speedway seem like the most fun thing a body can do.

I could be wrong, of course. Logan Lucky could just as easily be Soderbergh riffing on classic Joel and Ethan Coen mess-arounds like Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, where a collection of eccentric characters have to deal with each other’s personality quirks as well as the complex undertaking at hand. (Driver does a note-perfect impression of Tim Blake Nelson’s Delmar in the latter, by the way.) 

For all I know it’s just a goof on Soderbergh’s own Ocean’s trilogy, with the director working in his sweet spot of sharp, smart commercial storytelling. He shoots and edits under his usual pseudonyms he might also have written the thing himself, as no one seems to know who screenwriter Rebecca Blunt is.

The zippy silliness also includes Daniel Craig as a hayseed safecracker, Hilary Swank as a federal agent who thinks she’s Tommy Lee Jones, and some awfully clever product placement for Soderbergh’s tequila company. I could have done without whatever Seth MacFarlane is doing as an obnoxious energy drink magnate, but we’re not supposed to like the character so it works out either way.

There’s also some snappy dialogue, a few truly beautiful compositions and what I’m positive is a blown take between Tatum and Keough that Soderbergh kept in because it’s just so delightful. The whole movie’s like that, teetering between machine-tooled confidence and loose, unpredictable humanity, and I’m really glad Soderbergh’s back doing what he does best. I didn’t know how much I missed the guy.

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