"Ocean's Eleven" is not an important film. But it's witty, slick, and fun.
But, you can almost see a giant smirk behind the screen from start to finish Soderberg and his top-shelf cast of superstars had fun making this movie, and you can feel it in every scene. With rat-a-tat witty dialogue, expert pacing, and a smorgasbord of locations that pave the way to the terrible and wonderful excesses of Las Vegas, "Ocean's Eleven" is a great popcorn flick. In fact, it's almost better than that.
The Plan? Rob three casinos, private facilities that have a level of security that puts the federal government's best vaults to shame. The mastermind? Danny Ocean (George Clooney), fresh out of prison. The hopping setup takes ten minutes, tops, leaving the rest of the film to get the job done.
Act One finds Danny and his top buddy Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) criscrossing the country to recruit nine other ne'er-do-wells. We're introduced to each in their element, from pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) on the El in Chicago to retired crook Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) at the dog track in Florida. Some of the best scenes in the movie are found here, from the simultaneous cameos by Joshua Jackson, Holly Marie Combs and Topher Grace ("That '70s Show"), to the monster truck race between the Malloy brothers (Scott Caan and Casey Affleck Ben's brother).
Act Two is planning and practicing. While half the team cases out the casinos and their clockwork movements, the other pulls together the tools and hones the skills needed to do the impossible. There are many chuckles to be had here, to be sure, but some inexcusable gaps in logic are made, and we're also introduced to the main sub-plot: Danny's designs on her ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts), now entangled with casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia).
As romance-esque sub-plots go, this one's not all bad. It puts a little more teeth in the heist, which would otherwise be simply for money, and the sneering animosity between Clooney and Garcia is palpable. But you could have cut Julia Roberts from the film Soderberg squanders what little talent she has by casting her as an ice queen and no one would have noticed. As my wife observed, Pitt had better chemistry with Clooney than Roberts did.
And that's fine, because this is a buddy flick. The interplay between the big stars is what'll sell the most tickets. Unfortunately, with a team of eleven, some folks get left mostly in the shadows. After their promising entrance, the Malloy brothers only get to shine a couple of times. And the character of Yen (Shaobo Qin) recruited from a circus and pretty much kept around as comic relief reeks so much of "token Asiandom" that I would've just preferred another pasty white guy.
Act Three is the heist itself, where the characters finally and briefly take a back seat to the trickery and gadgetry. While the last "gotcha" rings a little hollow, it is a razor-sharp sequence.
"Ocean's Eleven" is a perfectly measured, clever and polished on-screen party. It may be no deeper than a puddle, but jumping in is still a blast.
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