I have a confession to make. The various Ocean’s movies are among my guilty pleasures. If any of them shows up on TV, I’ll sit and watch through to the end, every time. Steven Soderbergh, the director of not only the Ocean’s movies but also Magic Mike and The Informant!, has taken a bit of a break of late, not having directed a feature film since 2013’s Side Effects, going so far as to declare at that time that he was, in fact, retiring from directing. I’m quite happy to report that this declaration of retirement was somewhat preemptive.
The basic premise of the movie is familiar, if set in a different locale from our usual heist films (no Vegas, Paris, or Rome this time around). Hard-working hard-luck miner Jimmy Logan [Channing Tatum] loses his job helping to repair sinkholes underneath Charlotte Motor Speedway. (This is a commentary by Soderbergh on the current health insurance situation, as Jimmy’s fired because of a “pre-existing condition” that HR sees as a liability.) On top of this, his ex-wife Bobbie Jo Chapman [Katie Holmes] is planning to move from West Virginia to Lynchburg, Virginia, thus moving their daughter Sadie [Farrah Mackenzie] across state lines. Jimmy, out of cash and out of a job, goes to see his brother Clyde [Adam Driver] at Duck Tape, the local bar he works at. After an altercation with poncy race team owner Max Chilblain [Seth McFarland in an is he British/is he Australian faux accent mash-up], Jimmy walks away from the bar – but before he leaves, he tells Clyde, “Cauliflower.”
Apparently, this is family code for getting up to no good, and the two of them begin to plan a heist at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. To do the job right, they need the services of (“In-car-cer-rated”) safe-cracker Joey Bang [Daniel Craig, in a wonderfully scenery chewing performance], who in turn requires that his two brothers Fish [Jack Quaid] and Sam [Brian Gleeson] be included in order to protect his interests. All of this is convening against the warnings of Clyde himself, who insists that there is a “Logan Curse” preventing the family from enjoying success.
Antics ensue, and the movie is scattered with cameos (Dwight Yoakam as a prison warden with questionable morals; Oscar winner Hilary Swank as a stiff-as-a-plank FBI agent investigating the theft) and great little touches (such as a prison non-riot that lists as two of its demands access to Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, two volumes promised by George R.R. Martin in the Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones to HBO fans), which have yet to be delivered) that serve to flesh things out and give the story a nice layering. And of course, when all is said and done, Soderbergh gives us a wondefully Soderberghian montage of things (just off camera) that explain everything about how events played out.
Do our hillbillies succeed? Does Jimmy get to see his daughter? And what of Clyde’s prosthetic arm (sorry, hand)? These questions and more are best left to you to watch for yourselves, something I recommend that you do.
While this isn’t Soderbergh’s best work so far (I’d argue that the honor goes to Ocean’s 11), it’s still a wonderful little picture that ushers in, perhaps, a new era of Soderbergh films, and for that I’m quite happy. This is, consciously, on many levels a lesser movie than what the Ocean’s films aspire to (Charlotte vs. Vegas, Jimmy and Clyde vs. Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan, a NASCAR race vs. multi-billion dollar casinos), but that doesn’t mean that it is any less interesting, or, ultimately, any less fun. If you get a chance to see it in the theater before its run is over, go for it; otherwise, enjoy it as the guilty pleasure can’t-change-the-channel movie it’s bound to become.
Steve’s Rating: (7.5 / 10)
A return to movie-making – and to form – for Steven Soderbergh. Could this lead to a series of Appalachian-based heist films for the former Ocean’s director? One can hope.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Rebecca Blunt (written by)
Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes
Release Date: August 18, 2017
Runtime: 1 hr. 58 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13