Tuesday, November 11, 2014


(December 2001, U.S.)

Christmas 2001 was perhaps the most fragile holiday period I'll ever recall, having just come off of the horrors of September 11, 2001. Americans needed movies perhaps more than they ever had before since the days of the Great Depression. For those who needed fantasy, there was the first HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS films. For those who needed something deep and serious, there was A BEAUTIFUL MIND and IN THE BEDROOM. For those, like myself, who just wanted to have some fun and put a smile on his face, there was Steven Soderbergh's remake of OCEAN'S ELEVEN, one of the few remakes that I feel surpasses the original film of 1960 (there was also the re-release of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which I went to see on the big screen twice, but that's another matter entirely!). Hell, I didn't even really like the original film. Perhaps I'm just not of the age and generation where I can fully appreciate any of those Rat Pack movies, though I did appreciate the final outcome when the money that Frank Sinatra and his crew had stolen got accidentally cremated with the body and they were left with nothing (ha, ha, ha!).

If you've seen enough heist films in your time, then it's very likely that you eventually reach a point where you're not going to be very surprised any more. As a heist film, the ultimate caper works well in that slick con man Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney) and a crew that includes the likes of Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Elliot Gould and Carl Reiner plan to knock off not one, but three Las Vegas casinos on the same night and in the process, take down the man who controls it all, Terry Benedict (played by Andy Garcia), a man who's also a personal rival of Danny's because he lost his wife Tess (played by the ever-big-teethed Julia Roberts) to Terry. As a film of surprise, it's rather minimal because instead of learning how the entire caper managed to take place at the crucial climax, we're let in on most of what's going to happen as we watch it along the way. But don't be discouraged - there's still a few surprises left at the end to tantalize you! What's really fun here is the perfect blend of snappy, quirky dialogue and chemistry between all members of the eleven. Writer Ted Griffin has crafted a script that allows each character to feed off of each other perfectly, including those that are outside the crew like Tess and Terry. From the moment the plans are made between these men, we're fully confident that they'll get away with it. The question is how close will they come to almost not getting away with it? In other words, anything that can go wrong with the perfect plan likely will go wrong, whether it's dead batteries, smudged ink on one's hand or actually getting lost somewhere in the casino. Any caper that we're invited to go along with is a step-by-step procedure that we're meant to enjoy watching and listening to. We're also meant to sympathize with those who are committing the caper, who are, let's face it, the bad guys according to the law. But again, like most caper and heist films, the bad guys are our friends who are more often than not, stealing from those who we're meant to despise as real bad guys; in this case, a gangster like Terry Benedict who stole Danny's wife.

As a film that's meant to be nothing more than light-hearted fun, OCEAN'S ELEVEN is filled with high spirits that move along well like fingers snapping a cheery tune. Like the Cohen Brothers, Steven Soderbergh is a man who, while capable of making very serious films like TRAFFIC (2000), SOLARIS (2002) and THE GOOD GERMAN (2006), can also get a bit silly and give us something to smile at. Unfortunately, like most Hollywood film makers, Steven did not know when to leave a good thing along and just walk away. I'm talking about OCEAN'S TWELVE (2004), which I saw and didn't like and OCEAN'S THIRTEEN (2007), which I didn't even bother with! Honestly, were two sequels really necessary?? I mean, not only did the entire crew get away with their elaborate theft in the end, but Danny even got his wife back. All's well that ended well and there was nothing more to tell!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Danny Ocean: "Okay. Bad news first. This place houses a security system which rivals most nuclear missile silos. First, we have to get within the casino cages which anyone knows takes more than a smile. Next, through these doors, each of which requires a different six-digit code changed every twelve hours. Past those lies the elevator, and this is where it gets tricky - the elevator won't move without authorized fingerprint identifications..."
Rusty Ryan: "...which we can't fake."
Danny: "...and vocal confirmations from both the security center within the Bellagio and the vault below..."
Rusty: "...which we won't get."
Danny: "Furthermore, the elevator shaft is rigged with motion detectors..."
Rusty: "...meaning if we manually override the lift, the shaft's exit will lock down automatically and we'll be trapped."
Danny: "Once we've gotten down the shaft, though, then it's a walk in the park. Just three more guards with Uzis and predilections toward not being robbed, and the most elaborate vault door conceived by man. Any questions?"

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