What a monster of versatility Steven Soderbergh is! Can the person behind the coolly ironic sex, lies and videotape (1989) really also have made King of the Hill (1993), a warmly heart-rending tale of a Depression-era childhood; as well as Out of Sight (1998), a sexy Elmore Leonard adaptation with hip Tarantino-esque touches; Erin Brockovich (2000), a sympathetic portrayal of a single working mom; Traffic (2000), a sprawling saga of the drug wars—and such art-house oddities as Kafka (1991) and Schizopolis (1996)? Soderbergh is that rare crossover director who’s both art house and A-list, his quirky experiments—like Full Frontal, his 2002 neo-French New Wave account of a day in the life of several Hollywood actors, shot on digital video in three weeks—alternating with sleekly popular entertainments such as Ocean’s Eleven (2000) and its sequels. Along with directing, he has also served as producer, cinematographer, screenwriter, and editor. What other film credit might Soderbergh rack up? Popcorn popper?
Recent years have, if anything, accentuated his promiscuity in style, subject, and approach. There was Che, his 2008 ode to the Cuban revolutionary. The Girlfriend Experience (2009) cast a real-life porn star in its lead role. Bubble (2005) is a murder mystery shot with no script and non-professional actors. Behind the Candelabra (2012) was an uproarious biopic starring Michael Douglas (!!) as Liberace. Magic Mike (2014) explored the life of a male stripper. Soderbergh has even made a film shot entirely with iPhones (Unsane, not yet released). In 2014 the director announced his retirement, confessing moviemaking fatigue. But now he’s back, giving us his first feature film in nearly four years.
Logan Lucky takes an iconic movie genre—the heist—and matches it to an iconic blue-collar American pastime, Nascar racing, in a down-home, hardscrabble version of Ocean’s Eleven. Instead of George Clooney and his suave insinuations, Soderbergh gives us Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), an ex-high-school football star with a bum knee and bum luck in life. Working an excavator at a renovation project at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jimmy lives up the road in West Virginia, where his ex-wife (Katie Holmes) has remarried a wealthy car dealer, and his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) tends bar in a dive called Duck Tape. Both brothers have suffered blue-collar American setbacks: Clyde lost an arm in Iraq; and, at the start of the film, Jimmy gets laid off, the company informing him that his bad knee is a “preexisting condition” they cannot insure him for. He’s limping through life, with wounds both physical and psychic.
Clyde considers the Logan family cursed, but Jimmy rejects such fatalism and decides to fire back the slings and arrows of outrageous blue-collar fortune. What’s a working man to do when an honest living is taken away from him? Try a dishonest one! Soon Jimmy posts on his fridge a list of tips for How to Rob a Bank.