Mountaineer Movies: Does ‘Logan Lucky’ Do Right By West Virginia?

Adam Driver and Channing Tatum in Logan Lucky. Via Bleecker Street Films.

One of the most recent depictions of Appalachia in mainstream cinema, 2017’s Logan Lucky is a fascinating film to watch as someone from the region. Directed by Ocean’s Eleven’s Steven Soderbergh and starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Daniel Craig as down-on-their-luck West Virginia robbers, the film is easily one of the best heist comedies of the last several years.

However, as with so many comedies set in the region, Logan Lucky walks a fine line between making its Appalachian characters funny protagonists and making them the butt of the joke. And at times, it does step over the line into caricature. 

Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, Logan Lucky is much better at depicting Appalachia than other comedies set in the region, and it is well worth a watch for any mountaineer moviegoer.

Set between Boone County, West Virginia (of Jesco White fame), and Charlotte, North Carolina, Logan Lucky is a modern-day heist movie centered on the unlucky-but-lovable Logan family. Laid off from a construction job at Charlotte Motor Speedway, ex-coal miner Jimmy Logan (Tatum) decides to rob the complex with help from his Iraq War veteran brother Clyde (Driver), his strong-willed sister Mellie (Riley Keough), and the hair-trigger convict Joe Bang (Craig). All the while, Jimmy must balance the heist with being present for his daughter with ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Holmes) as she competes in the Little Miss West Virginia pageant.

From start to finish, Logan Lucky is a well-paced, dynamic movie with heart. Despite being only 12 minutes shorter than the West Virginia epic Matewan, Logan Lucky goes by much faster, with the movie’s heist plot keeping its energy high like in Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven. This energy allows the film to spend much of its time developing its rich cast of characters, with Adam Driver’s hilariously understated performance as Iraq War veteran Clyde deserving special mention for best faux West Virginia accent.

Adam Driver as Clyde Logan in Logan Lucky. Via USA Today/Claudette Barius

Even outside its central cast though, Logan Lucky spends a good deal of its runtime exploring memorable secondary characters that flesh out the film’s sometimes-absurdist Appalachian setting. Most notably, while comically hyperbolic, country singer Dwight Yoakam’s turn as a corrupt, Jim Justice-esque prison warden will be familiar to many West Virginians used to state officials who refuse to recognize and deal with local problems.

Not all the film’s characters ring true, though. While most of Logan Lucky’s main characters can reasonably pass as some type of West Virginian, the Bang brothers, led by Daniel Craig’s character Joe, are a particular reservoir of tired Appalachian stereotypes. Joe is a half-sane convict with bleach-blond hair in prison for trying to rob a bank, and Craig’s attempt at Appalachian English is disappointing, to say the least. Meanwhile, his brothers Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid) are twangy, tattooed incompetents who justify their involvement in the heist on weird religious fundamentalist grounds, playing into common tropes. 

Despite those occasional missteps, Logan Lucky is actually one of the better films in recent years to depict Appalachia as more than a collection of hillbilly jokes. For the most part, the film’s Appalachian protagonists are funny, likable people clever enough to carry out an elaborate prison break and heist on par with Danny Ocean, but with much less seed money. 

More interestingly, Logan Lucky’s characters are much more conscious of the power dynamics of their situation—of the corrupt state officials they need to placate, the rich corporation they need to avoid—than their Ocean’s Eleven counterparts ever were, and they’re much better at using this knowledge to punch above their weight. 

While some may consider this focus on Appalachia’s social and economic ills to be airing the region’s dirty laundry, the clever ways the film allows its characters to exploit these issues to flip traditional power dynamics makes it feel earned and grounded in an appreciation for Appalachians’ ingenuity.

It’s also worth noting that Logan Lucky is one of the few films about West Virginia that feels like it actually takes place in the state. Perhaps due to his prior experience directing 2005’s Bubble, a film shot in Parkersburg with a local cast, Soderbergh presents a much more complex version of the state than other mainstream directors. Whereas other films tend to portray West Virginia as uniformly rural and poor, Logan Lucky’s West Virginia has a variety of locations populated by characters from a wide array of classes. From the Logans’ stereotypical trailer in rural Boone County to the upscale suburban housing development where Bobbi Jo lives with her car dealership-owning husband Moody (one of the best satires of small-town elites I’ve seen in a while), each of the film’s locations looks and feels like the West Virginia I grew up in.

Logan Lucky is a well-made comedy from one of Hollywood’s best directors that exudes a genuine understanding and appreciation of Appalachia while only occasionally falling prey to regional stereotypes. If that sounds like your idea of a good movie, watch it now on Amazon Prime Video.

Nicholas Brumfield is a native of Parkersburg, WV currently working in Arlington, VA. He also comes from a proud family of nurses, including his sister and aunt. For more hot takes on Appalachia and Ohio politics, follow him on Twitter: @NickJBrumfield.

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