Ocean's Eleven (2001) Review
After winning last year's Best Director Oscar, you'd think Steven Soderbergh would go from strength to strength. Many were surprised however, when Soderbergh announced he was to remake the hip sixties Rat Pack heist flick Ocean's Eleven, which starred Sinatra, Davis and Martin. Claiming that studios no longer remade cast-ensemble pictures, Soderbergh selected an A-Star cast, which would feature the golden names of George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia. Despite the potential ego problems of the all-star cast, the remake of Ocean's Eleven is a slick, fun adventure from Steven Soderbergh, and suggests that he has the ability to make an average film appear interesting.
Heist-master Daniel Ocean (George Clooney) has just been given parole from a New Jersey prison, and within hours of tasting his first free air, Ocean is already planning his next robbery. Fixing up with old accomplice Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), Ocean designs an elaborate scheme to rob not one, but three illustrious Las Vegas hotels - The Bellagio, the Mirage and the MGM Grand! All of these casinos belong to ruthless, wealthy and thorough entrepreneur Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). After assembling a team totalling eleven heist experts with various individual skills, Ocean and Rusty embark upon and intricate scheme that will guarantee success with their super-team of thieves. Members of the team include Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) the expert street pickpocket who can 'lift' almost anything effortlessly; Basher Tarr (an uncredited Don Cheadle) as a Cockney explosives expert and Yen Mu-Shuu (Shaobo Qin), an Asian contortionist who can hide himself in the smallest of spaces. However, unknown to the team, Ocean has a score to settle with Benedict, after the businessman stole Ocean's wife Tess (Julia Roberts), and this could cause complications for the heist.
In a way, it's pleasing to note that director Steven Soderbergh refuses to allow himself to pander to a pretentious persona now that he is an Oscar winner, and rather than feel compelled to make any 'important' pieces of work, Soderbergh still insists on making films that he is interested in. Although it is loosely based on the famous sixties caper movie of the same name, the film still has enough plot originality to not be a carbon-copy of the Sinatra version. The cast are splendid, particularly Clooney, who seems a charismatic extension of his Jack Foley character in Soderbergh's own Out Of Sight. Brad Pitt seems happy to not always command the stage (this is the guy who took a small supporting role for free in Snatch after all) and he seems a more capable actor than Matt Damon, who is deeply uninteresting as a leading man. Andy Garcia plays Benedict with a menacing coolness that often appears on the brink of a volatile explosion. You rarely see Benedict boil over into rage, but you still are in complete fear of the man. Julia Roberts, as the token Angie Dickinson 'squeeze' of the film, is average in what is a small, average role. Americans might feel that Don Cheadle delivers a cockney accent acceptably, but in reality he matches Dick Van Dyke for authenticity (and you thought From Hell was bad). The rest of the cast, including Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Casey Affleck, Elliott Gould and Bernie Mac all perform splendidly, and despite the fact that these characters are performing a crime, you still care about their successfulness. This isn't a gangster film with foul-mouthed hard-man outbursts, this is a hip exercise showing suave weaklings using their intelligence to make the best of a situation.
Thematically, Ocean's Eleven has all of the trademark cinematic touches of Steven Soderbergh - the visual razzle-dazzle that never becomes indulgent, and the colourful tone that never relies upon bright and primary colourings. The characters are all cool in terms of personality, but not in the corrupt-wise-guy sense of the likes of Tarantino's worlds, and this makes them much more likeable. Also, the lack of violence is refreshing, compared to most modern day heist movies. Frequent Soderbergh collaborator David Holmes once again provides a funky score, and this helps the film move along at a blistering pace, even if the plot is a simple two-act set-up involving a) the team being pulled together and b) the heist being carried out.
Arguably better than the Sinatra original, Ocean's Eleven is a rollicking good piece of studio entertainment from a talented director just having a good time. If anything, the film surpasses recent similar efforts such as Mission: Impossible 2 and The Score, suggesting that characters are much more important to the success of a film compared to elaborate plots and bullet-time action sequences.