Why 'Logan Lucky' Is So Much More Than A Redneck 'Ocean's Eleven'

"They're calling it Ocean's 7-11," a character says near the end of the goofy and wonderfully charming new film Logan Lucky, marking a welcome return for filmmaker Steven Soderbergh to the big screen. The winking in-joke, nodding to the 2000s-era trilogy that Soderbergh directed with a slew of massive movie stars making up the eponymous crew, might seem like it's gilding the lily just a bit. But the reference works, both because it helps cement the fact that the filmmaker has a good sense of humor about his own work, and because it genuinely fits the story preceding the quip. On the surface, Logan Lucky has more than a few elements in common with the Ocean's trilogy, but just underneath, this film represents an inversion of those slicker heist movies.

This post contains minor spoilers for Logan Lucky.

It's Personal

Logan Lucky focuses on brothers Jimmy and Clyde Logan (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver), and their sister Mellie (Riley Keough). The introverted Clyde is convinced that their family is essentially cursed. Both he and Jimmy would seem to be living embodiments of said curse. Clyde lost his arm in the middle of serving a tour of duty in Iraq and now works as a bartender at a local hole-in-the-wall off the freeway. His older brother Jimmy used to have aspirations of becoming an NFL star until a career-ending injury to his leg left him essentially scrounging for work in his West Virginia hometown. Mellie, who freely admits that she doesn't give any mental attention to a so-called family curse, seems happy enough working in a local salon. Still, Mellie doesn't express any concern when Jimmy recruits her and Clyde to rob a bank vault underneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the biggest NASCAR race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600.

In both the Ocean's trilogy as well as Logan Lucky, there's a sense that the leader of the crew is driven to commit a high-stakes robbery due to a personal affront. In Ocean's Eleven, Danny Ocean decides to rob three Las Vegas Strip casinos upon leaving prison primarily because his ex-wife is currently in a romantic relationship with the owner of those casinos. In Ocean's Twelve, the personal affront is flipped: the casino owner tracks down the men who robbed his bank to get revenge on them. In Ocean's Thirteen, Ocean and his crew are back in Las Vegas to take down another selfish casino owner largely because he betrayed one of the original Eleven and felled him with a debilitating heart attack. And in Logan Lucky, after Jimmy is unceremoniously laid off from a construction job located underneath the speedway, he decides to rob the vault in part to get back at his faceless employer and in part to give himself a fresher start with his adorable daughter.

As in the Ocean's films, there are plenty of near-misses for our criminal heroes in Logan Lucky, such as a couple of briefly suspenseful moments underneath the speedway where various members of Jimmy's hodgepodge crew run up against security guards who miraculously don't get too suspicious at what might be going on right under their noses. As in Ocean's Twelve, there's a federal agent (played here by Hilary Swank) who seems like she might be one step ahead of our heroes in figuring out their scheme. But aside from those surface comparisons, Logan Lucky is otherwise as far from the Ocean's films as possible. The backwoods setting of Logan Lucky is antithetical to the glamour built into the storyline of any of the Ocean's films. Though Soderbergh doesn't make West Virginia or North Carolina look exceedingly ugly or grim, it's hard to make this part of America look as shiny and snazzy as the Las Vegas Strip.

Logan Lucky

Winks and Nods

Even some of the elements in Logan Lucky that feel like deliberate nods to Ocean's Eleven (or are at least unavoidably similar) are also inversions. One other key member of the crew is the convict Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, in a welcome respite from the taciturn James Bond), who has a history of breaking into bank vaults. After successfully breaking Joe out of prison without arousing suspicion from prison security or the warden, the Logans and Joe reach a series of pneumatic tubes that send money from the speedway to the underground vault. There's only one way to get close to the money: set a fire in the tubes so that they can then use a vacuum hose to suck out the money from the vault. The only way that they can set the fire is through sending an explosive device through one of the tubes, and Joe's plan is as cheap as possible. He uses two bleach pens (the types you can buy at your local CVS), a salt substitute, and a couple bags' worth of gummy bears, and puts them all into a small plastic bag.

Both Logans are understandably skeptical – to the point where Joe has to quickly explain the science of his plan via a chalk drawing. Their skepticism seems well founded at first: the faux-explosive appears to fail and shoots back through the tube at the criminals. After a moment of genuine tension, where they wonder if the explosive is about to literally blow up in their faces, Joe realizes that he made a crucial mistake: he tied the plastic bag too many times.

Ocean's Eleven features a similar moment of suspense, when Danny (George Clooney) and Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) attempt to set off an explosive device to break into the three-casino bank vault and to get their acrobatic partner The Amazing Yen (Shaobo Qin) out of said vault. At first, the remote device that Danny uses to set off the bomb fails, inspiring Linus to semi-sarcastically ask, "Did you check the batteries?" In both films, the bomb does eventually go off without damaging any of the criminals; in both films, it's a very close call. Logan Lucky, emphatically, shows a cadre of thieves who are getting by in such situations by the skin of their teeth.Logan Lucky Clip - Daniel Craig

Inciting (Comical) Violence

As in the Ocean's films, Logan Lucky also features miniature schemes within the larger heist itself, planned primarily offscreen to maximize the triumphant payoffs. One of those schemes seems almost harder than the heist itself: as mentioned above, when the Logans first reach out to Joe, he's incarcerated (a word he comically enunciates for impact). So not only do the Logans try to rob a bank, but they have to break a convict out of prison and then break him back into prison after the robbery without being noticed. In large part, the Logans are able to make this work thanks to Joe, who encourages a couple of his fellow inmates to incite a fake riot. In doing so, they essentially lock down the prison for the entirety of the robbery.

Something similar, though it doesn't take place in a prison, occurs in Ocean's Thirteen: the brothers Turk and Virgil (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) incite a riot in a Mexican manufacturing plant that makes the dice used at Vegas casinos, in part to rig those dice for later events. (Ocean's Thirteen is a generally enjoyable movie, but the prison riot subplot in Logan Lucky is exceptionally funny, and features what is arguably the single funniest joke in any movie this year.) In Logan Lucky, the riot is able to escalate with nothing more than some aluminum foil, baking pans, a couple of matches, and good timing. There's no flash or sophistication in what Joe and the Logans are able to do, just homemade ingredients and good luck.

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More Than a "Southern" Ocean's Eleven

What truly makes Logan Lucky stand out from the Ocean's trilogy is the undercurrent of lost potential at the core of the newer film's plot. Jimmy and Clyde, even if there is no genuine curse on their family name, can only watch as other people get chances they might have received had luck turned their way earlier. The suggestion, in most cases, is that those people who have made more of their lives don't even deserve their largesse. Jimmy is barely able to hide his disdain for his ex-wife's new husband, a car-dealing lout who almost brags about bringing his young children to the new Fast and Furious movie, a film that's too intense for them but they'll watch because it's loud. And Jimmy's completely unable to hide his disdain for an obnoxious, British racecar driver (an unrecognizable and oily Seth MacFarlane), with whom he gets into a sloppy fight for insulting Clyde's military service. Logan Lucky isn't just about a couple of good ol' boys down South trying to take a bit of cash for themselves. It's about people with something to prove, to the world and to themselves.

There are easy ways to spot the similarities between Logan Lucky and the Ocean's trilogy, to compare and contrast the films. Though the heists at the core of each film are pulled off as well as can be, there's not the same firm sense that Danny Ocean has to prove anything. Superficially, in the first film, he's trying to encourage his own ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), that her current squeeze Terry Benedict is selfish and slimy. But the unwritten subtext of Tess as a character is her clear awareness that Terry isn't an ideal man; he just "doesn't make [her] cry." Jimmy Logan has a lot more on the line, like proving himself to his loving daughter, whose devotion goes all the way to changing her musical routine at a local beauty pageant in the climax.  Jimmy's not just robbing the vault underneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway to make some kind of statement – although the film makes subtle criticisms of the greed driving the owners of the speedway, Jimmy isn't an avatar for taking down the 1%. He's robbing the bank to give himself a second chance.

That, in effect, is what's key to making Logan Lucky work so well: it's about people looking for a second chance at life even if (or especially because) their first chance went south. Danny Ocean starts out in Ocean's Eleven in prison, but that's only because he's always been a consummate thief; Jimmy Logan turns himself into one for a brief moment or two. The Ocean's trilogy may be owed a mild debt by Logan Lucky, but in the end, there's something more elemental going on in Steven Soderbergh's newer film than in the bright, fizzy, slick trilogy he helmed a decade-plus ago.