Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Ted Griffin
How cool is George Clooney? From the first five minutes of “From Dusk Till Dawn”, I knew he would become a huge movie star eventually. Alright, “Batman & Robin” was lackluster, and he’s made a few other ho-hum movies, but lately he’s been on a roll, working with the likes of David O’ Russell, the Coen brothers and, of course, Steven Soderbergh, for whom he first starred in “Out of Sight”. With “Ocean’s 11”, Clooney reaffirms his position as one of the most charismatic leading men of his generation. This is a remake (or re-imagining, to use the current buzz word) of the 1960 cult flick starring the Rat Pack. I haven’t seen the original, but from what I hear it’s not that good, save for the fun of watching Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and others having a good time knocking casinos.
Clooney plays Danny Ocean, a recently paroled con artist who starts planning a new scheme the minute he’s out of the big house. His latest idea for a score is ambitious, if not insane: to rob three Las Vegas casinos during a Lennox Lewis prize fight and walk away with more than 150 million big bucks. To even attempt such a feat, Ocean needs to gather a large team of pros, starting with his old card shark buddy Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt). Then there’s British bomber Roscoe Means (Don Cheadle), pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), master of impersonation Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), drivers Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk Maloy (Scott Caan), as well as an electronic surveillance specialist (Edward Jemison), a casino owner with deep pockets and crooked leanings (Elliot Gould), a blackjack dealer (Bernie Mac) and an Asian acrobat (Shaobo Qin)! Nothing like this has ever been done, but with all these guys working in synch, they might have a shot. Meanwhile, Ocean’s got an even bigger goal: to steal from casino owner Harry Benedict (Andy Garcia) not only his money but his girlfriend Tess (Julia Roberts), who just happens to be Danny’s ex-wife!
Now, that’s what I call a movie! This isn’t the deepest, most groundbreaking, most emotionally affecting flick there is. This isn’t by any mean an “important” film. Heck, it doesn’t even try to be. What this is is slick. S-L-I-C-K. Overall and down to the smallest detail, “Ocean’s 11” is mainstream Hollywood moviemaking at its slick best. What makes it so enjoyable? It’s the to-the-point, engrossing script from Ted Griffin, packed with wit, surprises and dialogue where every other line is quotable. It’s Steven Soderbergh, still at the top of his game after his “Erin Brockovich”/”Traffic” double-threat at the last Academy Awards (which had him winning AND losing the Best Director Oscar!), making a film both masterfully conducted and effortless looking. It’s Soderbergh also acting as his own cinematographer (under the name Peter Andrews), shooting a great looking film in real Vegas locations. It’s a David Holmes score which grooves and boogies tirelessly.
Last but not least, it’s a cast to die for in which everyone shines, notably George Clooney, of course, all rogue manliness and charm; Brad Pitt, looking great but not relying on it, delivering instead a nicely natural and not self-conscious Method-type performance, all munching and mannerisms; Don Cheadle, entertaining as always, getting good mileage out of British lingo; Scott Caan and Casey Affleck as amusingly dopey brothers, always arguing and bickering; Carl Reiner with his time-honed comic timing and an impressive ease at sliding into a character-into-a-character of an Eastern European high roller. As for newcomer (!) Julia Roberts, her part is small but her few scenes with Clooney are a treat. I love the way they play off each other, and there’s nearly tangible sexual tension between them. And then there’s Andy Garcia who, surprisingly, turns in the film’s most striking performance. His Benedict is riveting, “like a machine”, all precise, unflinching, purely rational, and utterly threatening.
Some lament that Soderbergh is supposedly lowering himself by doing such an inconsequential heist flick, but what the naysayers fail to notice is that he is not just going through the motions. Most of the scenes in “Ocean’s 11” have familiar outlines, sure, but they’re all given an extra twist, touches of quirkiness which keep the movie unpredictable. It’s things like a montage of past attempts at casino theft with time period clichés like (for a mid-80s robbery, having the criminal wearing a “Miami Vice”-style white on pastel suit, with “Take My Breath Away” on the soundtrack), or Pitt and Clooney’s characters crashing a Young Hollywood poker party between “That 70s Show”‘s Topher Grace, “7th Heaven”‘s Barry Watson, “Charmed”‘s Holly Marie Combs and “Dawson’s Creek”‘s Joshua Jackson!
Oh, and the whole remake thing? I think it’s just a starting point, as the movie mostly feels like an unofficial sequel to “Out of Sight”. Like that previous Soderbergh-Clooney genre pic, “Ocean’s 11” will keep you in a state of grinning glee for its entire length.