I can't think of all that many years with more trilogies drawing to a close than we've gotten in 2007 -- the Bourne series, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man, Rush Hour, Shrek, and now the Ocean's franchise. Director Steven Soderbergh has said that this is the last elaborate scam that Danny Ocean and his sprawling crew are going to pull off under his watch, and if Ocean's Thirteen really does bring the series to a close, this is exactly how it should go out.
Ditching pretty much everything about the snickeringly self-indulgent Ocean's Twelve, Soderbergh caps off the trilogy by looking back to Ocean's Eleven. Yup, Thirteen is another heist flick in Sin City, with Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones sitting on the sidelines this time out. Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) lays near-death after being screwed out of untold millions as Willie Bank (Al Pacino) opens their...I mean, his lavish new casino, so Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his crew decide that the best way to get revenge is to...well, break The Bank. They're not just eyeing a payday for themselves: they want to rig every single game -- craps, blackjack, slots, roulette...everything -- so that Bank is out a half-billion bucks on opening night.
Look, this is an Ocean's flick, so don't expect some long, rambling review about deep characterization or thematic resonance or whatever. It's just supposed to shove a couple busfuls of A-list talent in front of the camera, oozing charisma and having a hell of a good time as they pull off this elaborate, borderline-impossible heist. There's no prolonged setup this time around, diving straight into the heist storyline, and there aren't even any subplots to get in the way. Writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien keep the main story interesting enough that it doesn't need those sorts of distractions. Yeah, Ocean's Thirteen may be all heist, all the time, but how many of these sorts of flicks have its heroes inadvertently inspiring a Mexican labor strike or using the oversized drills that carved out the Chunnel as key plot points? Nah, it's not as sharp or witty as Soderbergh's remake of Ocean's Eleven -- too many of Thirteen's best gags are spoiled in the trailer and TV spots -- but there's a heckuva lot of chemistry between the cast, and with as bleak and morbid as action/adventure flicks have gotten over the past few years, it's kinda nice to watch something like this which is just pure, unadulterated, infectious fun. Recommended.
Video: I hafta admit to not being completely sure how to attack this one. The hyperstylized photography throughout Ocean's Thirteen frequently drenches just about every inch of the screen in a sickly orangish-yellow, is bombarded by golf ball-sized chunks of film grain, and smears the movie in a muddy, murky contrast. The 2.39:1 image lacks the tactile, three-dimensional pop that gearheads seem to want to get out of their Blu-ray discs, and fine detail is lackluster, at times barely scraping past what I'd expect out of an upconverted DVD. How much of that is because of the modest bitrate of this VC-1 encode -- the two hour movie and its stack of extras are all crammed onto a single BD-25 -- and how much is owed to Soderbergh's smirkingly off-kilter visual eye, I'm really not sure. I get the sneaking suspicion that this is how Ocean's Thirteen is meant to look, and this aesthetic really does suit the tone and feel of the movie particularly well. The sort of disc you'd want to yank off the shelf to show off your overpriced home theater rig, though...? Not so much.
Audio: Lossless soundtracks have become a bit more of a mainstay for Warner's day-and-date releases, but Ocean's Thirteen just gets the Dolby Digital 5.1 treatment this time around. I doubt it really matters all that much at the end of the day, though; the sound design is pretty tame, not making nearly as aggressive use of the multichannel setup as I'd expect from this sort of energetic heist flick. The surrounds most memorably roar to life as Ocean's crew scuttles around deep inside the underbelly of The Bank, but even in the more bustling casino scenes with however many thousands of people milling around, the rear channels are awfully timid. Seeing as how Ocean's Thirteen simulates an earthquake in its climax and everything, it follows that there's a reasonably hefty low-frequency kick as the movie speeds to a close, although bass response isn't anything all that noteworthy throughout the rest of the movie. The mix is kind of bland overall, but David Holmes' upbeat, jazzy score and the banter between Ocean's crew all come through crisply and cleanly, and really, that's all Ocean's Thirteen really demands.
Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs are served up in French and Spanish, and the long list of subtitles includes streams in French, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, and English (both traditional and SDH).
Extras: The high-def releases of Ocean's Thirteen wound up with a couple of bells and whistles that had been trimmed out of the DVD edition, for whatever reason. First up is an audio commentary with director Steven Soderbergh and writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien. One of the very best commentary tracks I've had the pleasure of listening to in many, many months, the three of them strike a really fantastic balance between being endlessly quippy while still delving in detail into the writing, directing, and editing of the film. In between the couple hundred thousand self-deprecatory jokes the three of 'em lob out over the course of two hours and change, some of the topics include why Thirteen focuses on the core group of guys this time around, Soderbergh's drive to use more interesting shots than your usual over-the-shoulder confrontations and his thirst for some sense of effort in filmmaking, the Thomas Crown Affair-inspired use of split-screen, and the loose, exceptionally collaborative tone on the set. Like virtually all of my favorite audio commentaries, this track is tremendously entertaining while still teeming with insight, and it's an essential listen for anyone buying or renting the disc.
Also exclusive to the Blu-ray and HD DVD releases is "Masters of the Heist" (44 min.), which explores in detail four different scams: the origin of the Ponzi scheme, the MIT blackjack team's multimillion dollar reign of terror in Vegas, jewel thief Doris Payne swiping rings as extravagant as ten colossal carats in size right under the noses of cashiers literally hundreds of times throughout her fifty year career, and history's most daring art theft as hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of paintings and sketches were stolen from the Gardner Museum in Boston. None of this material directly ties into the Ocean's series, but I really like seeing extras that are thematically related rather than just churning out another rote making-of piece, and this one's worth a look.
"Vegas: An Opulent Illusion" (23 min.) also just uses Ocean's Thirteen as a springboard, touching on Vegas' tendency to continually re-invent itself as well as noting the decreased reliance on casinos for revenue, the architectural and design touches used to compel tourists to keep gambling, and what the future holds for one of the world's most infamous four mile stretches of road.
The only of the disc's extras to be presented in high definition is a set of four very short deleted and extended scenes, running around four and a half minutes in total. None of them really leave much of an impression, though. Equally forgettable is producer Jerry Weintraub's very quick and kinda heavy-handedly promotional tour of the casino set, which clocks in around two and a half minutes.
Conclusion: Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's series gets my nod as the most infectiously fun franchise to come out of Tinseltown over the past few years, and if Ocean's Thirteen really is the last of the bunch, this sort of breezy, witty heist flick ain't a bad way to go out. The video and audio don't exactly dazzle in high-def, and the extras are kind of lean this time around, so more casual fans of the series might want to stick with a rental. Still, I dug the movie enough that Ocean's Thirteen comes Recommended.
The images scattered around this review are promotional stills and aren't meant to represent the way the movie looks in high definition.