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From ‘Ocean’s 11’ to ‘Baby Driver’ and ‘Logan Lucky’: Why happy endings aren’t enough for heist films anymore

[This article contains SPOILERS for Baby Driver, Ocean’s 11, and Logan Lucky]

The ending of Steven Sodberbergh’s Ocean’s 11 is one of the most iconic heist movie endings of all time. Having successfully pulled off one of the most elaborate casino heists ever, Daniel Ocean’s associates stand at the Bellagio fountain and watch the water show together set to an orchestral version of Debussy’s “Clair De Lune,” reflecting on the depth of their achievements. They go off on their own separate ways, presumably to enjoy the winnings they’ve obtained.

I thought about this ending a lot when I saw Logan Lucky yesterday, which is out in theaters almost 16 years after the release of Ocean’s 11. Both feature a male mastermind with a complicated love life who assembles a team of people to steal a huge sum of money from a large location with a complex security system. In both movies, the protagonists encounter events that are seemingly setbacks, but that we later learn were part of the plan all along. In other words, they’re both fairly conventional heist films.

With one major difference.

Just as Logan Lucky was hitting the 90-minute mark or so and wrapping up its main heist plot, the film introduces two new characters — FBI agents played by Hillary Swank and Macon Blair. For an additional 15-20 minutes, the film chronicles the FBI’s attempt to find who was responsible for the speedway heist. When the FBI ultimately fails, that’s when we get that happy ending we’ve been looking for: All the members of Logan’s crew drinking and enjoying life at the Duck Tape bar. The final shot of the film reveals Swank’s character is also at the bar, presumably having put all the pieces of the puzzle together and about to create some real trouble for the Logan brothers.

I found this ending to be curious. First of all, I thought Swank’s performance was an…interesting choice? She plays her investigative agent very much like a cartoon character, devoid of any emotion and unrelentingly stern.

But beyond that, it felt similar in a lot of ways to the ending of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. In that movie, the protagonist Baby has seemingly escaped town with the love of his life, Debora, only to be apprehended by police at a roadblock. In a rapid fire montage that follows, we see the trial that occurs in the wake of the film’s events. Many of the side characters we’ve seen in the film testify on Baby’s behalf. He’s eventually released, presumably not too long after he was imprisoned, and he and Debora get the chance to drive off into the sunset.

Both Baby Driver and Logan Lucky feature something I don’t recall seeing too often at the end of heist films: a glimpse at how the legal process would play out in the wake of each film’s extraordinary events. Why complicate the film in this way? Why add on a few minutes of runtime (or in the case of Logan Lucky, what amounts to a rushed third act) simply to tell us something that viewers might not even care about? I have a few theories.

I believe that filmgoers in general have gotten too smart about how society actually functions. In a world of smartphones and ubiquitous surveillance, we know that one simply can’t create a ton of havoc in downtown Atlanta or steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from Charlotte Speedway without either being caught or experiencing some form of consequences.

In both films, the function of the legal process basically allows us to feel good about the actions of the protagonists by communicating to us that these people got off (almost) scot-free. Yes, Baby had to serve time, and yes, Hillary Swank might be ready to re-open her investigation. But the crimes of the film have been largely resolved in the eyes of our country’s legal system.

Of course, Logan Lucky and Baby Driver aren’t the first movies to have people experience the consequences of their actions. Just look at the opening minute of this Ocean’s 12 teaser trailer:

The only other idea I’ll posit about why these movies ended this way is that, in our new interconnected age, perhaps society has gotten more communal. Actions no longer take place in a vacuum — everyone acutely understands how we’re all connected and how kindness can actually affect people in the longer term (just think of how the witness testimony in Baby Driver is all about the character’s good nature).

Maybe seeing someone abscond with millions of other people’s money with zero consequences — regardless of noble intentions, regardless of if the money is insured — is no longer something we can feel 100% good about. If that’s the case (BIG if), I actually think that’s a step in the right direction for us.