Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver
4 (out of 5) Globes
In 1956, Alfred Hitchcock remade one of his own films. It wasn’t laziness; his two versions of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” are very, very different. The first, from 1934, hails from his scrappy early British period, when he was still green as the maker of thrillers, far from the Master of Suspense. It’s loose and resourceful and eccentric — far sillier than the one he made when he was an established Hollywood powerhouse, which starred two of the most famous people in the world (James Stewart and a shockingly credible Doris Day) and whose set pieces were designed within an inch of their life. (That said, the climax might be better in the first.) The new one existed to show how far a filmmaker had changed over the course of 20 years.
“Logan Lucky” is not a filmmaker remaking himself. It’s not Steven Soderbergh’s redo of his “Ocean’s Eleven” movies, though he knows they’re similar. He even makes jokes about it himself and puts them in the film, beating smartass journalists to lines about “Ocean’s 7-11” and “Hee-Haw Heroes” before they can drop them into their heds. Sure enough, it’s a redneck/working class heist movie, in which down-and-out brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) wrangle together a team to swindle a racetrack. And like Hitchcock’s own auto-remake, it shows that the Soderbergh of 10-to-16 years ago is not the Soderbergh of 2017.
For one thing, there’s the fact that Soderbergh retired from movies. “Logan Lucky” is his Jay Z-style return, his first film since 2013’s underrated “Side Effects.” But in that time he was far from idle. A director who didn’t need to learn new tricks spent the last four years doing just that, working in TV, finding new directions to take his craft. In his case, that’s meant paring down his style to the bare necessities. When he made “The Knick,” Soderbergh was experimenting with how much he could do with how little. He shot it guerilla-style, with himself as the d.p., bouncing around expensive period sets, banging out a Guinness-level number of shots each day. In essence, he became if not equal to his star actors then someone whose work you watched with as much excitement.
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You can watch “Logan Lucky” for the plot, and that would be a fun night out. The screenplay, by Rebecca Blunt, is a fine repurposed/imitation “Ocean’s Eleven,” only set in the south amongst small towns and backwoods ex-cons and NASCAR enthusiasts. The heist is a doozy, too: Our hero brothers need to enlist, among others (including a chill Riley Keough), an explosions expert played by Daniel Craig. Problem is he’s in jail. That means finding a way to break him out and then, once their raid is a success, break him back in. (It’s indicative of “Logan Lucky”’s sense of humor that the break-back-in is funnier than the break-out.) Even moreso than in the “Ocean’s”es, everyone’s having a blast. Everyone reads their lines through a sing-songy accent. Craig has never had the chance to goof off, and he tears into his role with relish, busting out a nasal Foghorn Leghorn voice, relieved to get to say lines like, “I’m about to get nekkid.”
You can also watch “Logan Lucky” for the way it’s been directed. As with “The Knick,” you can see a filmmaker trying to find the most economical and creative way to cover each scene. He tries to use as few shots as possible, which doesn’t mean he shots them all proscenium-style, the camera sitting back as the actors make like theater thespians. He’s resourceful and imaginative, filming scenes from striking angles, using longish takes to stretch out the deadpan yuks. “Logan Lucky” is superficially similar to an “Ocean’s,” with a cool soundtrack over montages and silly-weird bits of thievery. (There are color-coded beetles, plus a gummi bear bomb.) But it has a laidback hangout vibe that’s part ’70s, part sorta-indie. It’s a purely auteur-driven lark slipped into an era when studios no longer want to work with directors with personality and pesky calls for final cut — a high entertainment with a handmade feel (not for nothing is Soderbergh's new distribution company called "Fingerprint Releasing"). Please stay back, Mr. Soderbergh. You're one of our only hopes.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge