There have been a lot of threepeats in movies recently, so much so that you could probably get away with branding 2007 the year of the Three, as multiple series, planned as trilogies or no, hit their charm button and went for the triplicate. Push wouldn't have to come to shove for me to say that, hands down, Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Trilogy is my favorite of the bunch. I love the relaxed, sassy cool he and his ensemble of actors have achieved with their trio of heist movies. All three of them--Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen--are funny, suspenseful, surprising, and just flat out entertaining to watch. As with the original Rat Pack that invented the concept, this post-millennial version is a collection of guys I want to hang out with, share some drinks, and shoot the breeze.
I'll admit up front, I'm a Soderbergh fanatic. I love watching his movies, I love hearing him talk about movies. His vast knowledge and his chameleonic ability to move cleanly between subjects and genres reminds me of Martin Scorsese, and when it's time for Marty to pass the torch, I'm going to nominate Stevie. With the Ocean's Trilogy, Soderbergh reaches back to find every trick he learned from the heyday of 1970s filmmaking, making a bouillabaisse of style that pays homage to the maverick era of early Scorsese, of the decade's heist films, its B-grade street movies, and their European counterparts, while at the same time putting a new, postmodern stamp on it that makes it completely his own.
Since the barebones DVD release of Ocean's Twelve back in 2004, the fans of Danny Ocean have been waiting for the second entry in the series to get an upgrade that would at least match 2001's Ocean's Eleven in terms of extras. A special edition was even announced, but never materialized. Once a 2007 theatrical release was set for Ocean's Thirteen (which I originally reviewed here), speculation started to lean to one mondo set that would update the entire trilogy when Thirteen hit the home arena. That speculation was partially right, the Ocean's Trilogy boxed set does bring all three films together under one cover, but that's as far as the upgrade goes.
All of the movies here are individually packaged in their original release state, with Eleven being taken out of the original Warner Bros. cardboard snapcase and put in a standard plastic DVD case. They have been packaged into a high quality, hardback "book"-style box that has a snazzy design and is one of the sturdier DVD boxes I have ever seen.
That, however, is it. No new extras, no bonus discs. So, no, this is not the big shebang we hoped was coming, and upgrading is now going to be a matter of how much you want that box. As good as these movies are, I'm personally quite pleased to now be able to put them on my show-off shelf with my other special packages; your feeling may differ.
Ocean's 11 is the one that started it all. It established the team, the special camaraderie, the con-man games, and the virtuoso storytelling. Soderbergh isn't afraid to move through time and space, choosing to show while his heroes tell, letting the things they explain play out for the viewer. A lot of the time, it is a bait-and-switch technique, a moviemaking con to keep the audience guessing. It's not abnormal in one of these movies for the present day storyline to stop and back up and show us something again, this time with all the information about what really happened being revealed. In fact, having sat down to watch the full Ocean's Trilogy back to back for this review, I was surprised by how many new things I noticed, even in films I had already seen multiple times. Though there are the occasional red herrings in these movies, Soderbergh shows everything for a reason. If he foregrounds or zooms in on an object in such a way that makes you notice it but without an explanation as to why, expect to see that object again later in a far more important role.
George Clooney plays Danny Ocean, the ringleader of this particular gang of thieves. In Eleven, he rounds up the best of the best, the players, pickpockets, and hustlers to rob three connected casinos, all owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). The crew hinges on old pros, like his right-hand man Rusty (Brad Pitt) or the seasoned card sharp Frank (Bernie Mac), but they also bring in newcomers, such as a second-generation con artist named Linus (Matt Damon) and a Chinese acrobat (Shaobo Qin). Rounding out the all-star gang is Don Cheadle, Elliott Gould, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck, Eddie Jemison, and Carl Reiner. These are the eleven, these are the guys that get things done.
Also in the mix is Tess, Danny's ex-wife and the current girlfriend of Terry Benedict. Her presence adds a little sugar to the scheme beyond the money, and establishes the pattern of all the movies. The jobs the Ocean's crew pull aren't just about the thrill of crime, but also carry a more personal reward. In this case, Danny winning back his true love. Julia Roberts plays Tess, and she's never better than when she's with Soderbergh. When her character makes her entrance, Linus, who has been tailing Benedict, says that her arrival for dinner is the highlight of his day, and Soderbergh makes you believe it. Roberts is lovely, charming, and smart, and more than holds her own in a very tight boy's club. She also makes for a good-looking couple with Clooney, who is in full-on Cary Grant mode.
Ocean's Eleven is the tidiest picture in the trilogy. Its heist is the most concise, and the script sticks closer to the standards of the genre. Even after multiple viewings, the mechanics of how the robbery is done are still suspenseful and the glitz of Vegas still dazzling.
Always the misunderstood middle child of the series, Ocean's Twelve in some ways is my favorite. Call me a salmon who swims upstream, but I've never understood the critical venom that got dripped all over this movie. At the start of the backlash, it felt like a preplanned agenda, that for some reason people wanted to see the film fail; as the negative opinion took hold, it seemed to me that the bandwagon was carrying far more people than had actually seen the movie. Having gone to Ocean's Twelve on opening day, before the votes were in, I loved it, and I'm not buying any of the hate.
Whereas Eleven was rooted in Americana and '70s Hollywood, for Twelve, Soderbergh unhooked his camera from the tripod and took it to Europe. The style here is more cinema verite, a tad more grimy, sliced together with the feeling that it was shot on the fly. In a lot of the scenes, it feels like Soderbergh stuck his actors in a room, shouted "Action!" and just let them go. He had faith in their acting ability and the power of male bonding, and the personality of the group really comes across on screen. As a viewer, you really will believe that the Ocean's team is comprised of a bunch of guys who work and play together.
This quality that I liked so much is, of course, what a lot of detractors really didn't like about Twelve. The script didn't have the step-by-step outline of the first movie, instead re-forming the crooks as a gang that couldn't shoot straight watching everything they worked for tumble away from them. A European gentleman burglar with the nom de guerre of Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) has taken umbrage to the guys being labeled as the best thieves in the world, and he has sold them out to Terry Benedict in order to force them into a competition. All of the original team return for the movie, with Tess adding the extra numeral to the collective. There is also a new love story, with the return to Amsterdam putting Rusty back in the city where his heart was broken during a romance with a sexy Europol detective named Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
The thing is, for as loose as the movie feels, go back and watch it again. As Soderbergh reveals in his trademark recap, all the pieces are actually there. By cutting the movie to appear to be an improvised mis-en-scene, he has once again misdirected his audience to miss the plot that has been running under the be-bopping guy's-day-out-in-Europe surface noise. That so many fell for the long con suggests maybe he did it a little too well. The suckers don't want to admit they were duped!
If anyone thought the Ocean's Trilogy was a boy's club before, then it really becomes one with Thirteen. From the very first scene, with Rusty and Danny returning to Vegas sans spouses, Danny is protesting that this one is "not their fight." Once again, despite returning us to the city where it all started, Soderbergh is switching it up. This time, the heist is personal for a whole different reason. It's a revenge job, man-to-man, and thus more likely to get dirty. The ladies should stay out of it.
Cold-blooded entrepreneur Willie Bank (Al Pacino) has screwed over Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) in a business deal, prompting one of the two elder statesmen of the Ocean's crew to have a heart attack. This causes the others to want to get some back for their man and take Willie Bank down. With the new casino and hotel that Reuben was supposed to be a partner in about to open, the guys form a plan to take Bank for everything he's got, ruin his business, and get him tossed out of Vegas on his rear. Joining them this time to fill out the 13 is the tech-gadget expert Roman Nagel (Eddie Izzard, originally introduced in Twelve) and their old nemesis Terry Benedict. The job they run is twofold: ruin the business through various acts of sabotage and rob Bank of his Five Diamond Awards, both literally and figuratively. Bank has won this prestigious award for all of his other hotels, and he has bought real diamonds to go with it each time. To keep the Bank Casino from winning is to deprive him of what he most desires; to take the glistening examples of his previous triumphs is to rub salt in his wounds.
Thirteen holds the most story parallels to Eleven, but the method of the direction marries the first two in a whole new way. The precise structure of Eleven is now combined with the verite camerawork of Twelve, thus unifying all three movies in an exciting alchemy of substance and style. In it's way, Ocean's Thirteen is the final victory, the vindication of everything Soderbergh tried to do with the prior films. He proves that there has been a design to each step, that an auteur approach still has a place in the studio system, and that modern big-budget movies need not be overblown or vapid.
Midway through writing this, a friend of mine called, and when I told him what I was doing, he gave me a hard time for watching the full Ocean's Trilogy in one go. It seems I've given him a similar hard time for his annual ritual of watching all three extended versions of Lord of the Rings. My defense that, "Yeah, but those movies suck," probably won't hold a lot of weight with a good majority of folks reading this, but that's the beauty of movies, we all see them differently. I can picture myself having my own ritual of watching Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's films once a year. They are films that get better with age, that allow you to see more every time you revisit them. Though there haven't been any real changes made to these DVDs, I do like having them all in one box. These are meant to be viewed together, each sequel building on what preceded it and making something more out of it. It's exactly what a good series ought to do.
At the start of every job the Ocean's crew pulls, someone dubs the scheme impossible. So, too, did it seem impossible that this series could stay this good all the way across the trilogy. It just goes to prove, with the right collection of people, you can make anything happen.
All three discs have English soundtrack options in both 2.0 and 5.1. Generally, the DVDs haven't earned as high marks on sound as they have on picture, and I tend to agree with that. Not bad, per se, the mixes are more average, using very little front and back interplay to create the full surround atmosphere. You're not going to find much to complain about, really (though some levels in Thirteen are incongruous, with the music being very loud compared to conversational dialogue), it's that you're not going to find much of note to shout about in the sound effects department.
All three films also have a French 5.1 soundtrack dubbed in Quebec, as well as a choice of English, French, and Spanish subtitles. Ocean's Thirteen ups the ante with a Spanish dub, as well.
Ocean's Eleven is a tricked-out disc with a strong selection of bonus materials, including two very excellent audio commentaries that are almost as entertaining as the main feature. The first brings together Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, and Brad Pitt, while the second teams Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Ted Griffin.
Two making-of features vary in quality, with the "HBO First Look" being the standard infomercial and the shorter "The Making of the Con" being more interesting by being less promotion heavy. Text-based bios, a collection of teasers and trailers, and DVD-ROM links to games and websites round out a pretty decent mainstream DVD release.
Ocean's Thirteen isn't quite as extensive in the bonus department, but it does bring the extras back like J.T. brought back sexy. (I know. Just checking to see if you're awake.)
Four additional scenes are amusing, though insubstantial, and they run as a complete program.
Vegas: An Opulent Illusion is a program running just under 23 minutes that has Vegas experts giving some insight into how casinos are put together. While this is fascinating, the 2 minute, 30-second Jerry Weintraub Walk and Talk is a pointless set tour with the movie's producer. So, about a 50% win-loss ratio here.