For my inaugural write-up here on Tek 5, I figured I’d talk about a recent Blu-Ray and on-demand release: Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, a heist film that travels in between small towns of West Virginia and North Carolina. The film follows two brothers, Jimmy and Clyde Logan (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, respectively), as they attempt to fleece a NASCAR speedway during the biggest race of the season.
One of Soderbergh’s hallmarks is his efficiency. In the last decade and a half, he’s pretty much served as the Director, Cinematographer, and Editor on all of his feature films (and TV shows!). This gives him an incredible amount of control on his shoots, and he often just gets whatever couple of shots he needs for a specific scene. If a dialogue scene has two shots in it in the final cut, you’d better believe that he shot those two angles and only those on set that day, which is pretty unprecedented. With that mentality, he can finish shooting and have a first cut (he edits to camera every evening) of entire feature films in a few weeks’ time.
The setback to this efficiency is that, like in one of his previous movies, Side Effects' case, occasionally his films feel really cold. So much of that movie just kind of…happens, while the audience isn’t really given an opportunity to like the characters or become intrigued by the story. It follows this breakneck pace, but keeps us at arms length from the situation. It’s a technically efficient and effective movie, but it’s not emotionally fulfilling.
Logan Lucky, however, does not fall into this same trap. It has a pace as speedy as the race cars it depicts, but Soderbergh gives us just enough scenes of character development and world building to really imbue a sense of place. We’re shown a colorful cast of funny, hardheaded, rough-around-the-edges characters and the world in which they reside, from run-down bars to strange county fairs (two characters play horseshoes with toilet seats, bob for pig legs, and race tiny tractors). It all serves as wonderful detail to the heist itself, as all of the characters’ methods feel grounded in the world around them. Instead of the slick technology of Ocean’s Eleven, there are bombs made with gummy bears and money stuffed in big old trash bags. It makes sense that Soderbergh, who grew up around the deeply strange and southern town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, would know exactly what details to focus in on and amplify the reality these characters live in.
Soderbergh is often stingy when it comes to close ups, but what’s interesting is that the extreme close ups that he places in Logan Lucky are often used to correlate a character’s essence to a specific object. With Clyde Logan, it’s his prosthetic arm, replacing the real one that he lost in Iraq. With the incarcerated Joe Bang (Daniel Craig!!!), the beautifully named explosive expert, it’s the disgusting hard-boiled eggs he gets from a vending machine at the prison cafeteria. This further serves as a way to deepen a character’s detail, and is even used as a nice payoff at the end of the film (Hint: Band-Aid designs are still cool).
I think a really important note to touch on is that viewers who are looking for something like Soderbergh’s first foray into the heist genre, Ocean’s Eleven, will probably be jarred by what they find. This film is rougher aesthetically, uses different influences (Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is heavily stolen from), and is structured in a different way. Where the heist is the climax of Ocean’s Eleven, Logan Lucky uses it as the conflict of its second act. But I think those differences are what makes the movie work well. What’s most respectable about Soderbergh is his ability to craft stories that stand on their own. Too many films in recent years on the larger end of the budget spectrum take the same beats of another movie in a series or franchise and repackage them. What’s wonderful about Soderbergh and screenwriter Rebecca Blunt is that they were interested in exploring different things within the same genre. It was probably in their best interest commercially to repackage, but that’s certainly not Soderbergh’s jam. Have you ever seen him make the same movie twice? Even the Ocean’s movies are vastly different from each other.
Logan Lucky had a relatively short theatrical run - you might have missed it if you blinked - because it bombed at the box office. Due to its unorthodox funding method, it wasn’t a huge loss like usual tent pole films, but it was still a disappointing performance. It’s a testament to what direction theater distribution and audience viewing habits are heading in when one of the best working filmmakers’ work is better off being released on television. But I think with box office prices and the general hassle of attending a theater, people are much more open to watching smaller, less spectacle-driven stories in the comfort of their own homes, which I can’t really disagree with. Anyway, definitely check out Logan Lucky on Blu-Ray or on-demand! It’s well worth your time.