(Movie review written in 12/01 and partially in 2/01)
Here is a movie so giddy in its self-confidence, so disarmingly charming and fun, that most will likely skip over the fact that, well...it's not particularly substancial. It's one of those movies that I found so impossibly entertaining and well-crafted that I'd sit through it again after I'd watched it the first time. That's not even saying it's perfect - it's simply saying that this is a picture that contains fantastic performances and, like one of the boxers in the fight in the film towards the end, spars and keeps the audience guessing what plot point it's going to swing with next.
The film is, of course, a remake of a Rat Pack vehicle that many considered to not be a particularly great movie in the first place. Yet, director/cinematographer Steven Soderberg has given the plot the funk and rhythm that it neeeds, orchestrating this piece with such light grace that it moves like the wind.
George Clooney plays Danny Ocean, who has just been released from prison and begins planning his next heist that same day. The job: rob the impossible - an underground vault in Vegas where 150 million dollars awaits them. For a job like this, he'll certainly need more than simply himself: Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), Bashir Tarr (Don Cheadle), Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould), Turk and Virgil Malloy (Scott Caan and Casey Affleck), Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison), and Yen (Shaobo Qin). The vault stores the money from the Bellagio, the Mirage, and the MGM Grand, but Ocean is under the belief that they can walk in and walk out of one of the most tightly secured places in the country. The second job: Danny also happens to be there to win back ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), who just happens to be with the owner of the three casinos, Benedict (Andy Garcia).
And so it goes, the plan comes into being, step-by-step. The details are delightful, as the planning pieces are fun and entertaining and the elements that make up the caper itself are enjoyable to watch and sometimes unexpected. This is a movie that, thankfully, attempts to throw the audience for a loop (instead of showing them what they've seen before in countless other movies, in an embarassingly unenergetic fashion, like this past Summer's "The Score").
The performances are nothing less than superb throughout. Clooney, who I'd said was not a particularly good actor as little as four or five years ago, has quickly become one of the better actors working today, able to be both immensely funny and wonderfully dramatic. Brad Pitt has been following along in similar fashion and contributes a similarly terrific effort here. Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Gould and Reiner also give solid support. Damon doesn't do a whole lon and Caan and Affleck simply argue. Suprisingly, Julia Roberts doesn't have a particularly great deal to do either, on-hand for a few scenes here and there to work fairly well with Clooney, but this is really the weakest element of the picture. The two don't really generate major sparks and Roberts doesn't seem particularly energetic. It works well enough not to derail portions of the movie, but thankfully, it's not a particularly big part of it and it works well enough that this subplot is generally satisfactory.
The film is also technically pleasing; shiny (but not too involved in its own slick look), well-filmed by Soderberg, who also again serves as cinematographer on his own film and boasting a snappy score. This film could have rounded up the stars and sat back, but it didn't - it grooves, it works, it really has energy and tries to entertain. It's good strong, clever dialogue (by Ted Griffin) and great delivery from everyone involved. It's fun with a capital F. It's not without a few minor concerns, but it's wonderfully involving and I look forward to seeing it again - soon.
And I did - quite soon. After viewing the film once, I ended up seeing it three more times. The surprise was that the film actually got better. The Roberts/Clooney banter worked a little more sharply upon following viewings (even if the Roberts part still seems the slightest of the bunch) and the way that the plot pieces locked into place seemed even smoother and more delightful the second and third time around. Soderberg's "Ocean's Eleven" is one of those rare films that I can watch over and over and over again, even though I certainly know by this point exactly how the plot will twist. After being bored and not very entertained by the original, I'm still surprised and impressed that Soderberg, writer Ted Griffin and the cast was able to make such an exceptionally entertaining remake.
VIDEO: "Ocean's 11" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I saw this film a total of four times in three different theaters. The print appeared clean and colors vivid once, appeared washed-out once, looked worn another time and the fourth time, it looked much grainier than the film looked the other three times. I'm pleased to say that this DVD edition from Warner Brothers has the film looking better than it did when I saw it in the theater. Sharpness and detail are excellent and consistent throughout; the picture appeared crisp, well-defined and boasted superb depth to the image throughout.
The picture appeared variably grainy in the theater and while I'm sure that some grain was intentional, the DVD is less grainy than any of the four different times that I saw this film theatrically. There's still some grain on occasion, but it was very minimal. A few brief, slight instances of edge enhancement were seen, but this remained hardly a concern. No pixelation was noticed and the print remained in beautiful condition, with little or nothing in the way of specks or marks.
Last, but not least, colors were presented wonderfully on this DVD edition. Colors consistently looked vivid and very well-saturated, with no smearing or any other faults. Black level remained rich and strong, while flesh tones looked accurate and natural. This is an excellent effort from Warner Brothers.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. While this is not an agressive soundtrack at all, the audio was more than satisfying. David Holmes' score is absolutely fantastic, setting the tone of the film perfectly. The score and what other music there is during the film is really the main element that is offered by the surrounds. Otherwise, the rear speakers pretty much remain quiet and what action there is is offered by the fronts. The music came through crisply and warmly, really filling the room quite nicely. Sound effects and dialogue also sounded clean and clear throughout. Not a spectacular soundtrack, but a very pleasant and satisfactory one.
MENUS: A nice animated sequence introducing each character leads into a nicely done animated main menu where some clips play in the background. There are also animated transitions between menus.
Commentary: This is a commentary from actors Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia. While I sort of believe that the three were recorded together, there were also indications that Pitt was recorded separately. Still, even if the three were not recorded together, the editing was pretty impressive. Pitt has participated in audio commentaries previously, such as with David Fincher and Ed Norton for "Fight Club" and Ed Zwick for "Legends of the Fall". In both tracks, Pitt provided intelligent and very funny comments, able to nicely balance entertaining chatter and production comments. Here, he talks about working with the other actors, the script and what it was like to work on the film in general. He also throws out some funny comments about Clooney, as do the other two. As for the other two, Damon and Garcia provide a good deal of insight about the flick, but occasionally go a bit far along providing praise for those they worked with. They also have a minor running joke about working with cinematographer Peter Andrews (also known as Steven Soderberg). There's some pauses of silence throughout this track, but none that were particularly lengthy (Damon admits at one point that he got caught up in watching the movie). A good track.
Commentary: This is a commentary from writer Ted Griffin and director Steven Soderberg. Soderberg's commentaries in the past have been very entertaining and informative - his track for "Out of Sight" was very funny, the one for "The Limey" is highly regarded and his chat with Mike Nichols on the "Catch 22" DVD is wonderful. This one isn't as good as the previous tracks that Soderberg has participated in, but it's still worth taking a listen to. Griffin and Soderberg seem to work well together and bounce comments about the picture back and forth enjoyably throughout the film. Griffin talks about the writing process and his opinions on the movie, while Soderberg discusses working with the actors and technical details (he seems to dislike how the look of a few scenes turned out, but I think the movie looks great). This track suffers from some pauses of silence as well, but not terribly so.
Making Of: This is where the supplements become less interesting. This certainly is far from the worst "making of" that I've seen, but it really only offers praise between cast members and interviews with the stars and cast about the movie. There's a little bit of behind-the-scenes information scattered about within and some informative tidbits, but it's not something terribly rewatchable.
The Look Of The Con: This shorter, 8-minute featurette focuses in on the look and feel of the picture, offering interviews with director/cinematographer Soderberg, Pitt, the costume designer and others. It's a fairly informative piece that I found enjoyable.
Also: Two teaser trailers and the theatrical trailer, as well as bios.
DVD-ROM: "Are You In Or Out?" DVD-ROM game, web-link, original theatrical website.
Final Thoughts: I love this movie - plain and simple. Marvelously performed, sharply funny, delightfully clever and well-crafted, I found "Ocean's 11" to be fantastic entertainment. Warner Brothers has come up with an excellent DVD edition, complete with solid supplements, terrific audio and superb video quality. "Ocean's 11" is a solid bet - an excellent DVD of a wonderful movie. A must-see.