In the cartoonish South of Steven Soderberg’s Logan Lucky (2017), families are known. They have reputations and rivalries; a surname means something. The Logans are cursed. Bad luck stalks them – or so their neighbours keep saying. We learn early on that both brothers served in Iraq. The younger brother, Clyde, lost an arm, after following his older brother, Jimmy, to war. So, is this a post-Iraq film? Does it express the cynicism that proceeded another failed adventure on false pretenses in the Middle East? Jimmy loses his job early on, told by his boss that a pre-existing knee injury is an insurance risk for the company. So, is this a post-crash film? Do the characters represent the insecurity and poverty of capitalism in crisis? No and no: this is a heist film. The heist is everything – subject matter, plot and subtext. Iraq and recession are merely the obligatory social issue contexts for the robbery and twists.
Some chapters drag the film down. The boys rob a NASCAR stadium during a race – a telling update of the race track heist from The Killing (1956). It’s ingenious in its geographical scope, but some of the NASCAR baggage is grating. The boorish spokesperson for the event’s sponsor takes the film to Farrelly brothers-level comedy. Soderbergh has said he’s ‘obsessed with dreams’, and there are sections that pay homage to this obsession, lost among the slickness and structure. A man dressed as a bear disappears into thin air after delivering some explosives. A thief writes chemical equations explaining his dynamite recipe halfway through the crime. During a post-riot negotiation, inmates demand the last book in the Game of Thrones series (only to be told it hasn’t been written yet). All this suggests a crime fantasy, which would take as its starting point, not goblins and wizards, but the desires and imaginings of those leading desperate lives.
Aside from a few decent gags, delicious casting and some eerie hillbilly settings – including a fayre where men munch pig trotters and toss toilet seats – the film adds up to very little. I still think Soderbergh is well placed to make a political thriller in the Alan Pakula-style about paranoia and power struggles, fame, money and the White House. He could do it, but he may not think the movies are up to the challenge.