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Ocean's Eleven: The White Trash Edition


          Steven Soderbergh not too long ago decried Hollywood for not giving directors creative freedom in their films, and it led to a hiatus from filmmaking for about four years. He had severe problems with how studios interfere in the process, so when he returned to the directors’ chair with Logan Lucky, he made sure to make it outside of the studio system. I really admire his principles here, but it’s a shame that the creative freedom he earned didn’t result in a lot of creativity. 
          Don’t get me wrong, Logan Lucky is certainly a departure from a lot of the movies its playing against, but it’s not quite the great comeback Soderbergh was hoping for.
          After a lifetime of bad luck, a fired construction worker from West Virginia Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), teams up with his handicapped brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) to pull off a heist at a major NASCAR race. To do this, they recruit an incarcerated former schoolmate Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), and using their limited skill-sets, proceed to put their plan into action.
          Soderbergh is old-hand at heist films, having directed the remake of Ocean’s Eleven and its two sequels. And this film’s plot follows the formula of the typical heist movie, just done with blue collar workers rather than sexy celebrities. This is an interesting conceit, but it proves to be not much more than that, as the plot direction is still narratively dull and uninspired. Though elements of the heist are definitely distinct, the effect is very much the same. Not to mention, we have seen twists on this form done in the likes of Ant-Man and, even more recently, Going in Style. So a gimmick itself isn’t enough. But Logan Lucky is definitely more funny than Going in Style, and it’s humour is one of its assets. The writing from screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (who may or may not just be a pen-name for Soderbergh himself) is pretty clever and funny, driven by character affectation in a way that sometimes stylistically resembles the Coen Brothers (Raising Arizona and O Brother Where Art Thou most notably). For the most part it’s funny, and especially from Adam Driver, deadpan; but the characters themselves, with one exception, don’t have the unique charisma or memorability that you’ll find in a great Coen Brothers film.
          The performances are still good, it’s just the character building that needs work. Channing Tatum I’m still surprised has in a few short years gone from Hollywood eye candy to a pretty compelling actor in his own right. Jimmy is a particularly transformative role for him. He’s a very different character type for Tatum, and he pulls it off well. His Magic Mike co-star Riley Keough is okay, though her character isn’t well-defined and quite under-developed. Adam Driver is fun, and does a decent job playing the very simple one-handed Clyde. There are a number of notable actors in minor roles dotted throughout the movie. Katie Holmes and David Denman play Jimmy’s ex-wife and her husband, and Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Jim O’Heir from Parks and Rec, and a miscast Hilary Swank make appearances. Seth MacFarlane has a supporting role too, that might have been funny if he wasn’t playing it with a bad British accent. The one character that does make the impression I alluded to is Daniel Craig’s Joe. I have never seen Craig in a role quite like this. He’s almost always the dashing, classy Englishman, but here he’s playing an eccentric redneck inmate and he really works. He’s by far the best part of the movie and I’d love to see him play more strange roles like this.
          There’s one thing that bothers me from a technical standpoint regarding this film. Soderbergh is too liberal with and uses too many establishing shots around NASCAR. There are multiple points where as much as thirty seconds at a time are expended on shots of audiences, cars and their teams, concessions, the stadium, et al. Not only does it feel like stock footage, but it’s edited together like an advertisement for NASCAR, feeling very manipulative. Adding to this is some notable product placement, which in fairness was probably necessary given Soderbergh was producing this film himself, and inevitable with the climax taking place around the Coca-Cola 600 Race. But it still cheapens the film a little.
          Logan Lucky has a great comedic atmosphere, some good dialogue, and one superb performance from Craig. But it’s weakness lies in how formulaic the story is despite a distinct approach.Because of the trappings of heist films, the plot’s not engaging, and though it’s often funny, most of the characters aren’t strong enough. It’s worth seeing if you like Soderbergh and want to see essentially a funnier, white trash take on Ocean’s Eleven, but there are better movies to take in, even if they are studio films.

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