June 2024

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh

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


After such more serious, heavier material as Traffic and Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven (a loose remake of a 1960 heist caper starring the “Rat Pack” consisting of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford) seems like a bit of a vacation, but if it’s fluffier and more lightweight and insubstantial than what’s typically expected from Soderbergh, it’s at least a breezy, entertaining heist caper that provides an engaging couple of hours.  Ocean’s Eleven isn’t really anything too challenging or special, but it’s a smoothly enjoyable diversion.

No sooner has convicted con-man and thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney) been released from prison than he’s setting his sights on his next big score.  The target: three of Las Vegas’ biggest casinos.  With the help of his trusty right hand Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), Danny assembles an eccentric crew including pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), inside man Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), British demolitions expert Bashir Tarr (Don Cheadle), veteran con-artist Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), bickering brothers Turk and Virgil Malloy (Scott Caan and Casey Affleck), twitchy electronic surveillance expert Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison), and Chinese acrobat The Amazing Yen (Shaobo Qin), bankrolled by Vegas bigwig Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould).  But, as Rusty soon learns to his chagrin, Danny isn’t only motivated by the money.  He also wants to win back his ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), who is now involved with their targets’ owner, notorious Vegas mogul Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who doesn’t have a reputation for playing nice.

Ocean’s Eleven is pretty plainly a relaxed lark for both director and actors, where a bunch of movie stars get to play off each other, throw some one-liners around, and have some fun (reportedly the atmosphere on set was so laidback that some involved regarded it as a vacation).  There’s a little suspense, but nothing too serious or threatening ever happens.  The movie provides an engaging two hours in the same ways virtually all competent heist capers do, as we follow a crew of quirky criminals through complicated plannings and preparations and then get to watch how it all unfolds.  Ted Griffin’s screenplay is snappy and gives the principal actors plenty of one-liners (at one point, Julia Roberts snaps “you’re a thief and a liar”, to which Clooney smoothly replies “I only lied about being a thief”).  The tone never gets too serious, and there’s enough humor to maintain a breezy, upbeat tone.

It’s telling of how well-respected Soderbergh is that he can attract such a high-powered cast for such a fluff piece, especially considering the large ensemble required several stars to accept pay cuts from their usual going rate; then again several of them have worked with Soderbergh before (George Clooney in Out of Sight, Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, and Don Cheadle in both Out of Sight and Traffic).  To say no one has anything challenging to do is an understatement.  George Clooney exudes easy charm and suavity like few actors can.  Brad Pitt lounges around looking about as relaxed and laid-back as his role warrants.  The likes of Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, and Elliott Gould all get a few moments and one-liners to chew on, and Don Cheadle dons a British accent and rattles off unintelligible slang.  Andy Garcia suitably fits the part of a hard-case mobster type, though that’s hardly a stretch.  There’s also a number of cameos; Joshua Jackson, Topher Grace, Holly Marie Combs, and Shane West have cameos as themselves, as do boxers Lennox Lewis and Vladimir Klitschko, and sharp-eyed viewers might spot Angie Dickinson, Wayne Newton,  Henry Silva, and Las Vegas mainstays Siegfried and Roy among the boxing spectators.

How much one appreciates Ocean’s Eleven might depend on expectations.  There’s nothing edge-of-your-seat about the heist caper, and the movie basically exists as a slick filmmaking exercise wherein Steven Soderbergh gets to lighten up and a bunch of movie stars get to hang out and have fun.  But the breezy pace ensures it goes down easily and pleasantly, and if it won’t go down as a heist classic, it’s at least an enjoyable popcorn flick.

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