In 2013, Steven Soderbergh retired from filmmaking. “The worst development in film-making – particularly in the last five years – is how badly directors are treated,” he said in an interview with New York Magazine on his retirement, “…I guess I don’t understand the assumption that the director is presumptively wrong about what the audience wants or needs when they are the first audience, in a way. And probably got into making movies because of being in that audience.” It has not been a quiet retirement. He has acted as cinematographer and editor on the Magic Mike sequel, after acting as director on its predecessor. He then moved into television, directing the series,The Knick, for Cinemax and executive producing The Girlfriend Experience, based on his film of the same name, for Starz. Now he has fully and officially come out of retirement with his first film with a proper theatrical release in four years, Logan Lucky.
Logan Lucky stars Channing Tatum, in his fourth collaboration with Soderbergh, as a West Virginia construction worker, Jimmy Logan, who has just been let go from his construction job. When he finds out that his ex-wife and daughter are moving across state lines, he concocts a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway on the day of the Coca-Cola 600. He enlists his one armed brother Clyde, played by Adam Driver with a slow, southern thoughtfulness, and local criminal Joe Bang, famous for blowing up bank vaults. What follows is a heist movie firing on all cylinders, involving color coded cockroaches, a planned prison riot, and a lost arm. Soderbergh has said that he no longer wants to make “serious” movies, he wants to make movies that are enjoyable. Logan Lucky moves at a zip and just when you think it must be winding down, it surprises you again. It also treats its southern, working class characters with a respect that similar characters do not often receive.
Bang is played by Daniel Craig with hair dyed so blonde it’s practically white and a southern twang. No one in the film is funnier. It feels like seeing him for the first time. Joe Bang is Craig’s first role not named Bond in four years. It is a shame that he has signed on for two more Bond features. Craig seems to relish every second of it. He gives every piece of dialogue a twist or emphasis to make it count even more, like he doesn’t want to waste it. Riley Keough, who gave one of the best performances last year as Clyde and Jimmy’s sister Mellie in American Honey, is another stand out. In interviews Keough has referenced her travels across America as inspiration for the characters she plays. Her broader frame of reference for American life is evident here.
While to the casual viewer, Logan Lucky may just seem like a mid-budget summer flick made for adults, it is step one in Soderbergh’s attempt to disrupt the Hollywood system. He has forgone the traditional method of making a film, finding a distributor to market the film, and then taking 15% cut of the box office. Instead, he sold the international distribution rights before he even started shooting to raise the $29 million needed to make the film and then raised an additional $20 million for marketing by selling all the streaming rights to places like Amazon, HBO, and airlines ahead of time. Soderbergh then brought in the small distribution company Bleecker Street Media to help market it while also giving himself the rare creative control over the marketing. They received a payout of less than one million with the opportunity to make more if the film hits a certain box office mark. Everyone who worked on the film can log onto a password protected website and see how much the film has made and how much of that money is theirs. Soderbergh is striving to keep the profits of a film closer to the people who actually worked on it.
At this point, Logan Lucky has made a modest $14 million against its $29 million budget. Some have regarded it as a box office disappointment. However, without a studio taking a cut of those profits and with a much smaller marketing budget, it is much easier for the types of mid-budget adult films that Soderbergh has made his whole career to be considered profitable in our current film climate–a climate where a $100 million plus film take can still be considered a failure when compared to an inflated budget and a massive worldwide marketing push.
After a surplus of uninspired sequels and reboots, Logan Lucky is the perfect note to end the summer on. Its rare to see a movie without an expanded universe and multiple planned spinoffs. Hopefully Soderbergh will stick around for awhile and continue to make crowd pleasers like Logan Lucky.