Bleecker Street Media 1 hour 59 minutes PG-13
Steven Soderbergh comes out after 7 years of retirement like a race car gassed up and ready to roll. And he even planned out the marketing without big studio help himself. But we’ll get to that later.
Think Oceans 11 meets the Coen Brothers in a theater of the absurd type of clever comedy with an iron clad cast. This film has an intricate plot and a lot of locations. Details matter, so pay attention. We saw the film twice to pick up more we might have missed. The writer who came up with the smart script is listed as Rebecca Blunt, but nobody really seems to know who she is. Go ahead. Look her up. May be a pen name for someone high on the film's crew list.
Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play Jimmy and Clyde Logan of Boone County, West Virginia trying to live down the family curse of bad luck. Jimmy is determined to break it. He and his brother are both damaged. Jimmy’s bright future as a football quarterback ended with the knee injury that left him with a limp. Clyde lost his forearm in the Iraq War.
Jimmy’s divorced from high school sweetheart Bobby Jo Chapman (Katie Holmes as a bitchy ex-wife). He has visitation for his cute-as-a-button, adoring daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie). A competent little actress.
After he loses his job digging under the Charlotte Motor Speedway to fix sink holes, he comes up with a 10 point plan to rob the track. The catch is he has to do it on a huge race-day. The Director got NASCAR to let them shoot during a real race. It was a massive task. Soderbergh methodically sets it all up and goes point by point through the exercise leaving room for bumps along the way.
Adam Driver as Clyde is very low key. He’s playing this role with one arm and the special effect when he takes it off is well done. He’s an excellent one-armed bartender. Driver is very understated, but adds comedy with his very dry, droll humor.
Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road) as their sister Mellie Logan plays the getaway driver and a real cracker jack. This hairdresser is solid as a rock and a real smart ass who is right there when you need her.
The key to the success of their heist is outsiderJoe Bang (Daniel Craig playing the exact opposite of his Bond character). His talent is blowing up things and it’s pretty interesting the way he does “ The Joe Bang” to blow up the vault at the raceway. Soderbergh has him stopping in the middle of the job to explain to the brothers how it is a matter of science, equation and all. Daniel Craig has crafted a really likable bad-ass.
Before they proceed with the heist there’s one problem, Joe Bang is in jail. Jimmy and Clyde have to break him out of the slammer, pull the job and then get him back as if nothing has happened.
This is ensemble acting with a twang. Soderbergh has managed to place his movie in West Virginia and North Carolina without all the usual stereotyping. Yes, the characters speak with regional dialects, but they are definitely not stupid. In fact, Channing Tatum’s Jimmy, who, seemingly is a loser, is arguably one of the smartest heist-film characters ever created. He’s always two steps ahead. Even with a bum leg, he’s still the quarterback leading the team down the field.
Even though the Charlotte Motor Speedway is central to the plot, NASCAR racing is not highlighted. There are few scenes of actual NASCAR racing, which did open up a lot of slots for product placement on the cars and drivers’ jumpsuits. One surprise is the appearance of Seth McFarlane. Kudos to the makeup department. He’s virtually unrecognizable.
Music is also treated with some dignity and respect. It would be easy to throw in some hillbilly country tunes, but once again Soderbergh chose to use updated Country-rock that still gives context to where the film takes place but without trivializing the region. One of the most poignant scenes is Sadie singing John Denver’s “Country Road” a cappella.
Hillary Swank turns up as the FBI agent who figures out “The Who-Done-It” part, but she can’t prove it. Maybe she’ll get her chance in a sequel.
Soderbergh decided he wanted to beat the studio system of marketing by doing it without their help. He got everybody to work for scale and got Bleecker Street to work with him without a big marketing budget, cutting out the middle man. And we still don’t know much about writer Rebecca Blunt.
Soderbergh has created an "Oceans 7-11" film with down home folk rather than rich slick types of Ocean's 11. This is a well-edited film of a well-planned heist. Tatum and Driver are so low key, but effective. The rest of the cast gets plenty of attention, too. Every character in this one has a purpose. Logan Lucky is chock full of some tasty smart crackers.