Ocean's Eleven (2001) Review
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.
Ocean's Eleven is a remake of the cool, traditional rat-pack flick that has survived more on the reputation of its stars as opposed to being a quality film. The remake is directed by Steven Soderbergh, fresh from Oscar success of Traffic and Erin Brockovich, and is just a breezy light effort that pleases audiences and delivers on all of the promises that the film projects. It's a kind of Out Of Sight without the cool Elmore Leonard dialogue and the intriguing characters; it maintains the style-framings and loses the interplay in favour of quirky action and team bonding. It's as if the original Seven Samurai / Magnificent Seven formula can be transplanted to almost any situation and still provide a winning blend of entertainment. 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.
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 Out Of Sight. Brad Pitt seems happy to not always command the stage and he is clearly 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 in an accent that is painfully worse on repeated viewings. 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 Guy Ritchie 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 firstly the team being pulled together and secondly the heist being carried out. Holmes' utilises the recent Elvis hit A Little Less Conversation successful, and incorporates the song into one of the film's main themes, which ties in nicely with the aura of Vegas.
One of the film's biggest problems lies in its tacked-on epilogue, which ruins a beautiful, poignant moment involving the outside fountains of the casino and the whole cast looking on. That moment easily rivalled Sinatra and co's exit in the original, and yet its impact was ruined by the unnecessary closure of certain characters' storylines that the film ended with.
Infinitely 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. Devoid of fluff or filler scenes, and edited tightly into a slick piece of cinematic fun, the film certainly earns its large share of fans.
Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, the picture transfer for the film is excellent, displaying fine colour tones and sharp imagery without a trace of artefacts or grain. The film often displays a hazy visual exterior that is complemented splendidly by the transfer, and the rich contrast of colours is exceptional.
Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the sound mix for Ocean's Eleven is very atmospheric with multi-channelled layers of sound including background effects, musical score and character dialogue. On occasions, the main dialogue is buried slightly by the overwhelming ambience of the surrounding sound events, but on the whole this is a fine mix that generates a good sense of establishment for the film.
Menu: A cool, minimalist animated menu that incorporates the musical cues from the film as well as all of the major characters.
Packaging: Presented in the usual Warner snapper casing with boring front cover that merely displays the actors involved without any context. Chapter listings are printed on the reverse of the snapper cover.
Audio Commentary With Steven Soderbergh & Ted Griffin: This commentary, with the director Soderbergh and the writer Griffin is a fun and informative audio experience. The two joke along nicely throughout, and talk about their views on the sequences in the film in terms of what script changes were made and how they approached remaking the original.
Audio Commentary With Matt Damon, Andy Garcia & Brad Pitt: Despite lacking Clooney and Julia Roberts, this commentary is a fun experience even if it does contain a few lengthy pauses. Damon and Garcia are clearly in the same room together and talk frequent back and forth, although unfortunately Pitt's comments have obviously been tacked on from a separate audio track. Nothing is value is shared by the actors, but its still a pleasant listen, even if the commentary becomes just a praise session for the most part.
Behind The Scenes: This is a fifteen minute featurette mixing interviews with off-stage footage and film clips. It's a watchable and concise effort, even though it is mostly an extended trailer for the film that rarely delves deeper beneath the surface.
The Look Of The Con: This is a nine minute featurette designed to showcase how Ocean's Eleven cool, slick look was achieved, featuring interviews with Soderbergh and costume designer Jeffrey Kurland, along with visual designs and behind-the-scenes footage.
Trailers: The two minute theatrical trailer is included, along with two teaser trailers that are variations of the same theme.
Cast & Crew: Brief selected filmographies of the major cast and crew players.
DVD-ROM Links: The usual weblinks to the original website and studio sites are included, along with a puzzle game that bases itself on the film's caper.
Ocean's Eleven feels slightly lacking as a DVD as there are only some relatively sparse extras other than the two audio commentaries included. The film is presented well in terms of audio and visual quality, and as an overall package there is enough to warrant fans or casual buyers finding enjoyment from this DVD.