OCEAN'S ELEVEN (2001) 

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George Clooney
Brad Pitt
Julia Roberts
Matt Damon
Andy Garcia
Carl Reiner
Don Cheadle
Elliot Gould
Bernie Mac
Casey Affleck
Scott Caan

Steven Soderbergh




Time: 121 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action/Comedy/Heist/Crime

Because of the cast and the director, this was one of those films that I just had to see. George, Brad and Julia shot by one of the most interesting director's of our time...what more could you want? Soderbergh and Clooney seem to have the same sensibility when it comes to humor, showcased wonderfully in the quirky and electric OUT OF SIGHT, so I had a feeling I would enjoy their efforts here. Having never seen the Rat Pack version, I had nothing to compare this remake to. Thank God. I hear the original isn't very good, if you're expecting a coherent story, but I doubt that's what audiences wanted out of Frank and his cronies at the time. They wanted class, energy and style, to be entertained – which is all I wanted when I walked into the theater a few days ago. I'm happy to report, my wish was granted.

Is OCEAN'S ELEVEN the best caper film ever made. I doubt it, but I was entranced by Clooney, Pitt and their gang of misfits as they tried to pull off the largest casino heist in history. The plot isn't what you would call complicated, but, like the robbery, is well-executed with enough humorous escapades to keep everything humming enjoyably along. The characterizations are lean, but you learn enough about everyone to make them distinct and worth watching. Clooney is no Sinatra, but he has an innate charm that makes him just as irresistible. However, it's Pitt who comes off as the coolest cat of them all. God, he's got screen presence. The camera just loves him and you will too. You won't be able to help it. He may be playing second fiddle, but without him the picture would be a bust. The joy of this film is the effortless performances of these two men. They are sex personified and I for one loved every moment of it.

For all you men out there, don't worry, there's plenty of action and hijinks to make this enjoyable for you. The film begins with Clooney's character, Danny Ocean, getting out of prison. He immediately meets up with his old friend Rusty (Pitt), who's been eking out a "respectable" living teaching young Hollywood celebrities, like Topher Grace and Josh Jackson, how to play poker. Bored to extremes, he agrees to Danny's crazy scheme – to rob three casinos in one night – even though he thinks it's impossible. Of course, they'll need money and a talented crew. The money comes easily from a rival casino owner who's willing to part with some cash to assuage his feelings of revenge. The crew, takes some time, but they manage to find the best of the best for what they need. What Rusty doesn't realize, until they reach Vegas and are deep into the operation, is the real motivation behind Danny's plan.

Of course, it has something to do with a girl. Specifically, Danny's ex-wife Tess, played by Roberts, who's now dating Terry Benedict (Garcia), the man they're going to steal the money from. All sorts of other issues plague our motley crew – petty arguments, minor injuries, casino security, health problems – but when it comes time for the show, they're all ready to go, full force for that one major, undo able heist. The robbery goes off as planned and though I wasn't surprised by how they did it, it was, as films go, extremely creative and well-orchestrated. Soderbergh loves manipulating time in his movies and does it again here with the robbery, using flashbacks to further illuminate those confused members of the audience as to how they actually pulled it off without getting caught. The scenes are intercut with Benedict as he replays the events in his head and figures out what really went down. It's extremely well done, giving the audience what it wants, as well as showcasing how smart and dangerous Benedict is.

After directing TRAFFIC, it's easy to see why Soderbergh would want to cleanse his palate with a light, action comedy like this. The supporting cast, including Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Elliot Gould and Carl Reiner, are all given moments to shine. Damon does well as the up-and-comer in the thieving arts, but he can't for one moment match the charisma of his compatriot leading men. He needs more time and experience to be in their league. Roberts doesn't have much to do except look good and spark with Clooney, which she does well enough. She fits into this boys' club somehow. You get the feeling that if she wasn't so classy, she'd be running the job with them. Garcia is menacing enough as the bad guy. It's not the best part he's ever had, but it's nice to see him on the big screen again. Never quite believed that Roberts would choose an arrogant, cold fish like his character over Clooney, but that really doesn't matter in the end.

"You guys are pro's, the best. I'm sure you can make it out of the casino, of course, lest we forget, once you're out the front door, you're still in the middle of the f**king desert!"

What makes Soderbergh's films so great, besides the impeccable and authentic art direction, music and casting, is the way he treats dialogue. It isn't Shakespeare, but his words have an economy, intelligence, subtlety and zip that you won't find in any other current films. He lets his actors give them meaning by their tone and expressions, giving the simplest of phrases layers of meaning. His characters are built through voice, costume and gesture, something actors must really love. We don't get a lot of depth in OCEAN'S ELEVEN, but you know exactly what's going on with these people every moment they're onscreen. Though this film probably won't go down as one of the best in history, it was nice to go to the theater and find an intelligent, well-crafted, fun movie made for adults...that doesn't revolve around gunfire. One of my favorites of 2001.

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