July 3, 2003
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Elliott Gould, Edward Jemison, Bernie Mac, Shaobo Qin, Carl Reiner, Julia Roberts,
When it comes to crime capers there’s only one man for the job, and it doesn’t even invalidate his parole. Daz examines Ocean’s Eleven and plots a trip to Las Vegas, guess we won’t be seeing him for a few years.
Over the years the ‘Heist’ genre has appealed to movie goers on the basest of levels, could we actually get away with it? We watch the films, in awe of the brilliantly conceived plans and copious amounts of luck and sheer brassiness involved in pulling it off and wonder if it could actually be done. How many of us have watched the Italian Job and thought about trying it?
The characters too are always portrayed in a romantic way as roguish criminals. They’re loveable, charming and daring yet they’re also the same kind of people who would climb in through your bathroom window and ransack your house. Not so lovable now are they?
Director Steven Soderbergh is no stranger to crime capers after his previous George Clooney heist flick – Out of Sight. Unlike that effort though Ocean’s Eleven has both style and character. Two hours of Jay Lo and George swooning around with some soft lighting does not a great film make.
The biggest asset this film has is its cast. Ensemble films such as this rely on of the cast members working together and playing off each other as opposed to one or two individuals trying to outshine the others. Generally when an ensemble piece works well it’s because it doesn’t feature the style of actor that can carry something on their own. Ensemble actors and lone wolves are a different breed, which is why none of the Friends cast have made it in solo careers.
With two guys like Brad Pitt and George Clooney involved the possibility that one or both would try to steal the limelight was very real. However whether it’s testament to their ability or to the stern hand of the director they work together and not as individuals. This film has done wonders too for both their careers. Brad Pitt tends to shy away from the commercial film, preferring to do more personal and less financially assured projects. The occasional commercial success insures he has the power to pick and choose his films as he sees fit. Clooney on the other hand tries wherever possible to back the winners in the box office race. He has however had some bad luck with his films, through no fault of his own. Previous movies Batman and Robin, The Peacemaker and Out of Sight have all threatened to prematurely end what should be a glorious career. Not since a young Harrison Ford burst onto the scene has there been an actor with the screen presence of George Clooney, but whether Clooney has the career to match depends greatly on his film choices, and this has been one of his better ones.
So what does make this film so great? Well first off as every man and his dog knows it’s based on an old Frank Sinatra movie, which wasn’t exactly a classic so living up to the original was never going to be a problem. This film, like so many others from the genre, works well as a result of the characterisation. It’s that all important human element that is so vital in getting you behind the confidence tricksters and their little schemes, and the performances in Ocean’s Eleven are so rounded that rooting for them in a big way is unavoidable.
The plot, as if you hadn’t guessed, centres on Danny Ocean (Clooney) who after just being released on parole wants to jump straight back into the saddle of crime. Teaming up with Rusty Ryan (Pitt) he plots the ultimate in casino robberies with $150,000,000 as the prize. The level of research and personnel hiring that they go into is worthy of any business start up plan, but with a much quicker pay off. They gather together a further nine guys, making the eleven of the title, including an explosives expert, a wheel man, an electronics expert and a whole bunch of players (con men). This talented crew make up the main dynamic of the film, but with less importance – thus screen time – given to the majority of them. Only Matt Damon and Carl Reiner as Linus Caldwell and Saul Bloom are treated with any real in depth exploration.
This is perhaps the only real weakness of the film, although it works on every level the sheer volume of talent therein could have been given more in the way of screen time. This would have resulted in a much longer film, and thus alienated the American audience who don’t like their films longer than two hours.
Andy Garcia plays Terry Benedict, made man and casino owner. Ocean and his guys fully realise that to fail in their attempt would result in them being whacked – a rather simple and friendly term for murdered. Bless those Mafioso. With the stakes that high, and the job so difficult the plan needed to be a good ‘en. Danny Ocean was also gambling for his ex wife Tess (Julia Roberts), who is now with Benedict. Roberts really only has a handful of scenes, but what she does she does with style.
Only at the execution of the heist itself are we privy to the whole plan, with important details such as just how they plan on getting out of the vault with all that money revealed. Although superbly crafted and executed the final plan itself is somewhat predictable. It’s nothing really that a team of soldiers of fortune in the Los Angeles underground didn’t get away with week after week in the early eighties. Indeed Brad Pitt’s doctor impersonation was a direct homage to the facial one Templeton Peck. The only missed opportunity was George Clooney’s non utterance of the words ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ – maybe that was cut at the final edit.
The final escape may have been telegraphed but the manner of the whole plan was so complex and brilliantly staged that it more than made up for that. Perhaps too it was just the criminal mind that it went into that saw through the plan, and most would be shocked and surprised at the escape route. Who knows?
As heist films go, this is one of the best. It’s not full of plot holes or unnecessary violence as many films of this genre seem to be, instead choosing to rely on its sharp script and acting talent to make it memorable.