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Savant Review:

Ocean's Eleven

Ocean's Eleven
2001 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 117 min.
Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Cecelia Ann Birt, Paul L. Nolan, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Carol Florence, Lori Galinski, Matt Damon, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, Timothy Paul Perez, Bernie Mac
Cinematography Peter Andrews
Production Designer Philip Messina
Art Direction Keith P. Cunningham
Film Editor Stephen Mirrione
Original Music David Holmes
Written by Ted Griffin from the 1960 screenplay by Harry Brown and Charles Lederer, story by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell
Produced by Bruce Berman, Susan Ekins, John Hardy, R.J. Louis, Jerry Weintraub
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Steven Soderbergh takes a poke at bigtime Hollywood moviemaking with a remake of a 40-year old film best known for its legendary cast, the 1960 rat-pack caper film Ocean's Eleven. Staying light (nobody dies), laying on the glitz of Vegas, 2001-style, Soderbergh recaps and tops most of the classic situations in the caper genre - and makes a good jab at a serious romance as well.


Newly released from prison, ambitious thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney) rounds up a team of experts to pull an amazing heist in Las Vegas: to knock off an impregnable vault used by three casinos. Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould) bankrolls the caper to get back at Casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). Ocean's number one man is Dusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), a jack of all crooked trades who spends his honest time teaching Hollywood actors how to look professional while playing poker. Together they enlist Linus (Matt Damon), a Chicago pickpocket; Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), an aging conman with a bad heart; the Malloy brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan), a pair of electronic experts who bicker like magpies; Frank Catton (Bernie Mac) a blackjack dealer who knows the ropes; Yen (Shaobo Qin), a circus daredevil; and Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle), a demolitions expert. The heist has just kicked into high gear when Dusty discovers that Danny has an ulterior motive for the robbery: Terry Benedict's present paramour is Danny's Ex, Tess (Julia Roberts). Dusty thinks Danny is in far over his head, and he considers calling off the whole shebang.

Few remakes rethink their subject matter as thoroughly as does Ocean's Eleven. Any attempt to recapture the ring-a-ding swinger cult of Sinatra and Martin would be ridiculous, and that's been replaced by the cool relationship between George Clooney and Brad Pitt. They trade one snappy one-liner after another, many of which, according to Soderbergh, they made up themselves. Soderbergh and writer Ted Griffin remain faithful to the original in other ways. The atmosphere is total Hollywood gloss, with a cast composed mostly of stars who move in a fantastic, 'Mission-Impossible' world of gadgets and high-stakes confidence games. Ultra-cool Brad Pitt drives a clunker Ford Falcon but wears designer suits.

It's a fantasy from the word Go. The caper story is loaded with irrational elements, like the fact that a cursory review of the casino security tapes would certainly unravel all the criminals' identities and functions. The way the casino runs, with its high-tech vault buried deep below the Nevada desert, and its vast security systems, is a total invention. The incredibly smooth operation of this heist requires electronic video manipulation beyond the capabilities of NASA, and a series of con games that nobody would ever expect to all function properly. But instead of being insulting, this is exactly the kind of plausible silliness we love in caper films.

The details pull together elements from all the classic capers. The millionaire with the fake heart attack is from Seven Thieves, the fake security camera views are from Danger: Diabolik, and the expert whose fingers are smashed at the last minute, is from the pilot for the Mission: Impossible TV show. Scrupulously omitted from the stew is the grim doublecross that's brought down the best laid plans of mice and thieves in every caper since The Asphalt Jungle - Ocean's Eleven refuses to get that close to reality. Substituting for the original's memorable twist ending is a romantic gambit that reunites George Clooney with Julia Roberts, the woman he lost through crime. Superstar Roberts did it as payback for Soderbergh's gift of her Oscar role in Erin Brockovich. Although the drama is too light to have an emotional bite, the actors pull it off with sheer star quality, another rare commodity that this movie knows how to marshall when needed.

As technically slick as a picture can be, Ocean's Eleven was photographed with style and taste by the director himself, working under a pseudonym. The overly complicated mechanics of the plot require very careful filming to be understood, and Soderbergh and Griffin do a great job with inserts, flashbacks, and other devices to help us follow along. Even when we're being denied key information, so as to make suprises work better, the galloping pace of the fun makes it all worthwhile. What some might peg as ridiculous fantasy elements - like the 'Pinch' EMP bomb - never become serious in a show this charmingly light.  1

Soderbergh can seemingly do everything, and his mastery of difficult cast management here bests anyone in the business. Taming the egos of Clooney, Pitt and especially Roberts must have taken herculean skill. The rest of his cast, including Matt Damon in a rather humbling part, are all pros who seem to have placed their personal agendas behind Soderbergh's vision. Very impressive all around. Personally, Savant always thought a caper film would be the perfect first movie - if all the tension and pain of a rushed shooting schedule spilled over into the performances, it would only make the film seem more real. Making a movie has a lot in common with a caper, anyway.

Funny, smart and refreshingly insignificant, Ocean's Eleven is a fine bigtime entertainment.

Warner's DVD of Ocean's Eleven is a handsome 16:9 widescreen edition that does a good job jumping between visual extremes without missing a beat, from the grainy contrast of the parole meeting, to lush casino interiors. The jazzy base rhythm score sounds particularly lush. Audio is Dolby Digital and Dolby Surround, but no DTS.

The extras are numerous. Savant sampled the laid-back commentary with Matt Damon, Andy Garcia and Brad Pitt, but listened to all of Steven Soderbergh and Ted Griffin's track. They strike a nice balance between clever wisecracking and very interesting, confessional insights. The trailers are nice - this show had a great ad campaign - but the HBO and EPK derived 'docus' are the kind of promo junk you can find on ET any night of the week.

A DVD Rom PC extra lets you play a game called In or Out?, which is not about bellybuttons but about whether you're in on the caper or not. Being a Mac person, I have no way to audit this.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Ocean's Eleven rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: docus, two commentaries (see above) trailers, PC CDRom game
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: April 13, 2002


1. I don't know about anyone else, but to me, the 'Pinch' device looks and even functions remarkably like the 'Oxygen Destroyer' in 1954's Godzilla. In their commentary, Soderbergh and Griffin claim that the Pinch is real, but it sure looks like they're pulling our leg.

Like caper films?
Savant's got 'em all. Read the Savant reviews on:

Ocean's Eleven (1960)     Rififi     Bob le flambeur     Topkapi     Grand Slam

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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