Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck, Bernie Mac, Shaobo Qin, Eddie Jemison

MPAA Rating: (for some language and sexual content)

Running Time: 1:58

Release Date: 12/7/01

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Review by Mark Dujsik

With Oceanís Eleven, director Steven Soderbergh has broken into mainstream Hollywood, and itís about time Hollywood can claim a director who actually takes time with his filmsólets the characters grow on us, lets the dialogue crackle at the right pacing, and lets the content dictate the style (not vice versa). It is arguable that Soderbergh went mainstream last year with Erin Brockovich, but this is even more mainstream. This is not a bad thing (he followed Brockovich with the very non-mainstream Traffic), and Oceanís Eleven manages to do a number of things quite well as a result. First of all, it takes a piece of '60s pop culture and effectively turns it into a piece of '00s pop culture. It also brings together an incredibly well-known cast of stars, some of whom have appeared in previous Soderbergh outings. But most importantly, it manages to be a solidly entertaining experience.

The third caper film this year that I can recall, Oceanís Eleven is the story of Danny Ocean (George Clooney) who has just been released from prison and has a plan for a job. The idea: Rob three casinos at once. He tells his plan to his old partner Dusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), who realizes the three casinos have one thing in common: They are all owned by Harry Benedict (Andy Garcia), a very tough customer. As their fence Ruben Tischkoff (Elliot Gould) tells them, "Heíll kill you, then heíll go to work on you." Making matters worse is an extremely tight security system that "rivals most nuclear missle silos." To successfully carry out this plan, Danny and Dusty gather a team of crooks. Rounding out the rest of the crew are Virgil and Turk Malloy (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan), the drivers; Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), a casino employee; Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle), the explosives expert; Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), the veteran; Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), the rookie pickpocket; Livingston Dell (Edward Jemison), the electronics guy; and Yen (Shaobo Qin), an acrobat.

The robbery itself is set up pretty minimally. We get sketchy details of the overall plan, like the idea of blacking-out Las Vegas for thirty seconds or obtaining the video from the casino cameras. Itís not until the heist actually begins that we get the "hows" and "whys" of the full plan. Some of the crewís tricks are kept from the audience until the moment they are needed, and there is one particular ace-up-the-sleeve that is pulled out at the last minuteóan intended surprise but ultimately a cheat. The heist sequence itself comes after about an hour or so of exposition, and with so many elements going on, it could have been easy to get lost. Fortunately, Soderbergh and editor Stephen Mirrione keep the dealings fluent and the pacing moving.

As the exposition takes up a good deal of screentime, it should keep interest, and thanks to Ted Griffinís snappy screenplay, it does. These characters are smart and witty and know exactly what to say. I loved the succinct quality of the dialogue; these characters say no more than necessary. This is an irony-laced script, and there are some great dialogue exchanges. The irony does admittedly keep the suspense low, as there is only one scene, which places two characters hanging from an elevator shaft, that generates mild tension. Itís a small price to pay for characters who are allowed to respond with a simple look or complete silence. Also holding the whole thing together is the stylish look of the film. The cinematography from Soderbergh (credited as Peter Andrews) occasionally gives the film a older, classier feel. Itís easy to get caught up in an endeavor when the style actually suits the movie it occupies.

The original movie generated popularity due to the allure of the "Rat Pack" (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop), and the remake has enough star power to make it just as appealing. Clooney and Pitt are charismatic leads. Indeed, itís hard to think of two better actors to fill these roles, which depend entirely on presence and charm. Garcia finds the right amount of menace and charm for his role as the villain, and Julia Roberts has enough presence to solidify her smaller role as Dannyís ex-wife. Thereís a moment when the two of them embrace and he kisses her on the cheek that particularly gave me the feeling of watching a old-fashioned film. Of the gang, Reinerís seasoned con is a standout. Everyone wonders whether or not he will be able to go through with the job, and when heís actually confronted with the question, he gives a simple, flat-out response, worthy of generating speculation that Reiner has given us an actual character.

Oceanís Eleven is a solid success and a smoothly entertaining caper comedy. Itís a movie dependent entirely on its star power and its script, and both are supplied with ample quality. I know that Soderbergh will go back to more "important" and "provocative" projects, but anytime he wants to cross back to Hollywood, heís more than welcome.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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