Brothers who steal together …
Two fine summertime heist flicks
I’d say Logan Lucky is the best movie of the summer, except it’s even better than that—maybe not quite in the same league with Dunkirk and Wind River, but still among the very best of the year so far. And in terms of smart, rambunctious comic-dramatic entertainment, it’s a “summer movie” of an exceptionally rewarding sort.
The central story, as you may have heard by now, involves the somewhat farcical scheme of some Deep South small-timers to pull off a big heist during a major NASCAR event in North Carolina. And since Steven Soderbergh is the director/auteur on this one, too, there’s a real aptness to the wisecracks about the film being a hillbilly variation on his Ocean’s Eleven remake and its sequels.
There’s so much going on in Logan Lucky that the heist, at times, seems almost beside the point. But Soderbergh and company make good on plenty of action and suspense, even as the film gives rapt attention to darkly comical digressions and bittersweet ventures into miscellanies of bespangled Southern kitsch. The script (credited to the heretofore unknown “Rebecca Blunt”) is a wildly flavorsome stew of local lingos, crackpot pronouncements and misspoken catchphrases.
The pivotal figures in a large and very lively cast of characters are a rather tattered pair of brothers, a recently laid-off working man and divorcee named Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and a one-handed bartender and war vet named Clyde (Adam Driver). They and their saucy, pedal-to-the-metal sister Mellie (Riley Keough) are Logans, a family known in local legend as cursed with bad luck (hence the film’s title).
The wild card in all this is an imprisoned safe-cracker/bank robber named Joe Bang (played by a fine and fiery Daniel Craig with bleach-blond crew cut and peckerwood accent). He’s the expert in the bunch, and a focal point in perhaps outlandish subplots that entail criminal acts and their deliberate reversal as a strategy for further activity, lawful and otherwise.
Driver and Craig are the acting standouts here, but Tatum, Keough and nearly a dozen others do good work as well. Katie Holmes plays Jimmy’s not entirely estranged ex-wife. Katherine Waterston is good (and almost too good to be true) as a health care volunteer with whom Jimmy becomes intimate. An aging Dwight Yoakum is amusingly feckless as the prison warden.
With a couple of mirthless FBI agents (Hillary Swank and Macon Blair) on the one hand, and Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), the nitwit “faith-based” brothers of Joe Bang, on the other, Soderbergh hints at the extremes of Southern Gothic, but never really loses touch with an abiding air of sardonic amiability. Seth MacFarlane seems beyond the film’s subtleties as the aptly named Max Chilblain.
In Good Time, The Nikas brothers, Connie (Robert Pattinson) and Nick (Benny Safdie), may seem a little like a New York version of the buffoonish Bang brothers in Logan Lucky, but they are a little closer to the conflicted gravitas of the brothers played by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver in that film.
Connie is a chronic screw-up with a criminal history. He plans to get out of jail, help his emotionally disabled brother escape from a mental hospital, rob a bank in order to finance their escape to a different life in a different state. He puts every phase of that plan into action, but it’s no surprise that nearly everything goes wrong. Plus, Connie’s irascible girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and a not that innocent teenager (Talitha Webster) and her Haitian grandmother (Gladys Mathon) get variously entangled in the brothers’ tragicomic misadventures.
The not entirely unwelcome surprise in all this is that the film’s co-directors, brothers Benny and Josh Safdie, keep a glimmer of humanity percolating throughout most of this grim, urban picaresque tale.