Logan Lucky

Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank, Daniel Craig

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Rebecca Blunt


Steven Soderbergh is no stranger to heist movies. In fact he’s probably the one who sets the standard for other filmmakers. His most notable contribution is, of course, the Ocean’s trilogy, a series of slick, stylish movies that brought together an ensemble of colourful characters to pull off a string of increasingly impossible capers. These movies, while far from Soderbergh’s best work, were suspenseful, entertaining flicks that rose above the regular standard by virtue of his expert direction. One of the staples of the heist movie is the big reveal, the practice of keeping the audience in the dark about what’s really going on before (surprise!) revealing that the shootout between Paul Newman and Robert Redford was actually part of the plan. Soderbergh did this by playing around with perception, showing some, but not all, of what was happening and then revealing that there was a bigger plan all along. Soderbergh brings that same direction here to create what one character describes as “Ocean’s 7-Eleven”.

Logan Lucky is set far away from the classy, sophisticated city of Las Vegas in the rural, southern land of North Carolina. Here lives Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a blue-collar worker who is fired from his construction job due to a leg injury he sustained in high school. His daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) lives with his ex-wife Bobbie (Katie Holmes), but they’re planning on moving to Lynchburg soon which will make visitations harder for Jimmy. He concocts a plan with his wounded veteran brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and their rough and tough sister Mellie (Riley Keough) to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedaway where Jimmy was laid off. To pull this off they need the assistance of Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), an explosives expert currently serving time behind bars, and his two redneck brothers, one of whom is apparently a computer expert who knows “all the Twitters”. Thus a plan goes underway to break Joe out of prison for a day and steal the money from the stadium vault during one of NASCAR’s biggest and most profitable races.

The genius of setting the movie in this rustic backdrop with these unpolished characters is that we never really know how smart or dumb they really are, which plays right into Soderbergh’s perception game with us. There are enough silly, comedic moments with these unruly characters for us to think that their plan will end up going wrong in a million different ways, but that just makes us all the more curious to see how their elaborate plan with its several moving parts will actually work out. The Logans and their comrades are a far cry away from the cool, suave likes of Danny Ocean and his gang; in fact they would not be at all out of place among the dim-witted misfits you often get from the Coen Brothers’ films like O Brother, Where Art Thou? Watching them execute a convoluted heist in the Soderbergh tradition is as fascinating as it is entertaining.

Logan Lucky is so-titled because of what Clyde refers to as the Logan Family Curse. Much like those hapless Coen Brothers characters whose prospects are thwarted time and time again by events beyond their control, misfortune seems to haunt the Logan family at every turn (or so Clyde believes). Between himself and his brother they have six working limbs and they are descended from a line of Logans whose lives have never gone the ways they’d hoped. Thus there is some additional suspense there as we wait to see whether the family curse will strike while their heist is underway. The screenplay as penned by Rebecca Blunt (who many suspect is a pseudonym for Soderbergh’s wife Jules Asner) does a very good job of keeping this idea present in the audience’s mind without banging them over the heads with it. Everything that transpires does so with the sufficient motivation and fluidity for the whole story to feel organic. Everything we see happens for a reason and, in the end when the carpet is inevitably pulled out from under us, all the missing pieces that get revealed fit in just right.

Like Ocean’s Eleven, Logan Lucky is neither the deepest nor the most innovative movie Soderbergh has ever made. There are some moments that are genuinely affective and impactful, the most notable of which takes place during Sadie’s child beauty pageant (of all places!), but otherwise the movie is simply good fun. Most of the performances are enormously entertaining, especially Daniel Craig’s who seems like such a grump in his role as Bond that it’s quite refreshing to see him having a genuinely good time. There are some characters like Hilary Swank’s FBI Agent and Katherine Waterston’s medical worker who don’t get enough time to make an impression and Seth MacFarlane can be pretty distracting (silly, fake English accents seem to be a thing with Soderbergh), but they don’t really drag the movie down. Logan Lucky is the kind of engaging, suspenseful movie that Soderbergh knows how to do well and is well worth a watch.

★★★★

Spectre

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Director: Sam Mendes

Writers: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth


I’ve been a fan of Bond since I was a kid and for me Daniel Craig’s tenure as the MI6 agent has been the most consistent in terms of overall quality (although Sean Connery still remains my favourite Bond). Casino Royale is a fantastic thriller that did a terrific job of updating and rebooting the franchise and I think stands as the strongest of the Craig Bond films. The (slightly) underrated Quantum of Solace is easily the weakest of these films but I think that some of the criticism it gets is undeserved. It certainly isn’t a great film but I still think it has enough action and style to be worthy of the Bond name. The (slightly) overrated Skyfall on the other hand is a strong film but I’m not convinced that it is the masterpiece everyone says it is. I think that most of its praise was drawn from the hype surrounding the film than it was from the film itself, although the brilliant villain and the use of Judi Dench’s M certainly helped. Now Bond is back in Spectre which I think stands as the third strongest outing in this series only slightly behind Skyfall.

In the aftermath of the events in Skyfall James Bond (Daniel Craig) receives a cryptic message that sends him on a rogue mission. The trail he finds eventually leads him to the mysterious criminal organisation SPECTRE, led by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a figure from Bond’s past. Meanwhile in London M (Ralph Fiennes) is having his authority challenged when Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new Head of National Security, seeks to shut down what he perceives to be a costly and redundant 00 programme. Along the way both Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are enlisted to help combat these threats. As Bond is drawn deeper into SPECTRE’s intricate web he falls into the company of Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of a former enemy who might hold the keys to SPECTRE’s secrets.

After the first three films which distinguished themselves from the classics with their post-9/11 fast-paced Bourne style of action, Spectre marks a return to the basics. All of the elements of a classic Bond film are here including the sinister villain, the beautiful and proficient Bond girl, the high-tech car and gadgets, the silent and intimidating henchman, the exotic locations, the secret lair and the stylised action. In fairness some of these elements are not executed as well as they could have been but I still thought it was a nice change of pace to have a Bond film that harkens back to the originals. Spectre still has the grit and intensity that has made the newer films so thrilling to watch but the inclusion of the tropes that made Bond iconic in the first place was very welcome.

The film’s greatest weakness however is its story. While the plot has never been the greatest strength of any of the Bond films, Spectre is nevertheless placing a clear emphasis on its narrative in an attempt to tie all four films together which is why the story’s shortcomings are more notable. This is perhaps a symptom of the impact television has had in recent years with audiences becoming more receptive to longer and more substantial narratives. This story however is very rushed and unpolished and lacks the necessary development required to make the kind of impact it is trying to make. Throughout the four films Bond has evolved as a character and this film marks a point where he has been emotionally wearied and damaged and is seriously considering the prospect of leaving this world of death and destruction behind. Elements of his past return to haunt him during his encounters with SPECTRE and threaten to be his undoing. I do admire the big-picture long-form narrative that this film is trying to tie together, the trouble is that it all seems too last minute at this stage.

At the end of the day however, I came to Spectre looking for a Bond film and that is exactly what I got. The action is as intense and stylish as ever, the biggest highlight being the opening tracking shot where Bond navigates his way through a Mexican carnival in pursuit of a lead. The villain was unfortunately quite a let-down with the film failing to take full advantage of Waltz’s ability to convey his uniquely charming form of intimidation. Seydoux however is on top-form as a smart and fully capable Bond girl who is second only to Vesper Lynd in her ability to challenge and serve as a foil to Bond. There are imperfections with this film, as there always are in the James Bond franchise, but I was on board from beginning to end and got almost everything that I wanted from this film. The thrills, the style and the charm are all classic Bond and its great to have him back.

★★★★