It wouldn’t be a Soderbergh film without a sprawling cast of characters. The immediate Logan family is joined in their scheme by noted demolitions expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his nincompoop brothers Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid). Katherine Waterston plays a nurse who’s sweet on Jimmy, Hillary Swank shows up as a potential spoiler, Seth MacFarlane plays a loudmouth advertiser, and Sebastian Stan makes a brief appearance as a driver as finely tuned as his car’s engine. All are allowed to make eccentric choices for their characters, none moreso than Craig. Making a meal out of rare opportunity to play a comedic role, he puts on a reedy accent and a theatricality that make the character impossible to look away from. He’s a man who takes pride in his work and someone who uses suppositions about people that sound like him to his advantage. He might sound like a yokel, but he can also write a cogent chemistry equation on a wall.
As much as Joe Bang deserves the maximum amount of screentime, the titular family give Logan Lucky its surprisingly potent oomph. Jimmy is taking that fundamentally-American leap of looking at his past and deciding that he doesn’t have to be beholden to it any longer. Oceans 11 never had much of a rooting interest in its characters getting a big payday, but in Logan Lucky, the score matters. Much of this rests on the relationship between Jimmy and his daughter, and while that’s a low bar for a film to hurdle, Soderbergh and writer Rebecca Blunt ably mold the film around it. Mackenzie is beautifully cast as a guileless little girl who loves her daddy, and the purity of their relationship demands a happy ending no matter how many property crimes Jimmy has to commit. Logan Lucky rapturously blooms with paternal pride and daughterly love at a sublime moment at a beauty pageant. Taking something crass and turning it into a heartfelt miracle, Logan Lucky marks my first impromptu sing-along in a theater as nearby patrons softly joined in to the sweet sounds of John Denver.
As affecting as Logan Lucky suddenly becomes, it’s also the funniest film of 2017. While a lot of this comes from Joe Bang and Craig’s delivery, Soderbergh’s jaunty direction and editing (the latter done by him under a pseudonym, as usual) keep things brisk and sharp, punctuating lines and reactions visually. Tatum and Driver are both excellent straight men to Joe Bang and his idiot brothers, capable of deadpan humor and withering glances. Soderbergh also finds times for tangents like the aforementioned chemistry equation, but also a discussion between prisoners and guards about the convoluted release schedule of the Song of Ice and Fire books.
The humor in Logan Lucky is supported by its big beating heart. To again compare it to the Oceans films, which seemed to be about very little beyond attractive people performing the cool crime of robbery, Logan Lucky is simply about the value of decency and how it can be its own reward. It’s there in how the idiot brothers (who otherwise are the sole mis-calibrated parts of the film) insist on applying some kind of code to their larcenous ways, or how Mellie jealously guards Clyde’s self-esteem after his amputation. In a first for Soderbergh, he made a film with love at its center. He hasn’t lost a step in crafting densely plotted and kinetic heists, but he’s added a few by finding admiration for characters who don’t immediately earn it with their appearance. It would’ve been easy for him to caricature the denizens of Appalachia, but the Logans and their cohorts are effortlessly lovable, as is Logan Lucky. A-