Oceans 11 (2001) Movie Review

Danny Ocean has just been released from prison after a 4-year stint. He’s a confidence man (re: conman) who has lost his wife, Tess, after being incarcerated, something he hasn’t accepted yet, and doesn’t plan to. He’s back in the real world, alone, and with a scheme almost as impossible as it is ambitious. You see, Danny wants to break into an impenetrable casino vault in Las Vegas that houses the stash of 3 casinos, all owned by the same man, and steal $150 million. If that isn’t interesting enough, the man who owns the casinos is presently dating Tess, Danny’s ex-wife, and Danny has more than just a professional need to hurt his ex-wife’s current beau.

That, in a nutshell, is all you need to know going into director Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 and all you’ll ever need to know coming out of it, for the simple fact that very little happens in-between.

The film stars George Clooney as Danny Ocean, Julia Roberts as Tess, Brad Pitt as Rusty Ryan, Danny’s longtime partner-in-crime, and Andy Garcia as Benedict, Tess’s new love interest and the man in Danny’s gun sights. Other notable names round out the cast, comprising the rest of Danny’s “11” — the 11 operatives who joins his team to rob Benedict’s casino.

Soderbergh regular Don Cheadle shows up as Basher, a Brit with his own bag of phrases, and Elliot Gould is a local tough who bankrolls Danny’s scheme in order to get back at Benedict for stealing his casino. It’s a great cast, the kind only a man with Soderbergh’s reputation can assemble. People flock to work with Soderbergh, who is quickly gaining a reputation as the next Steven Spielberg. Heck, they even have the same first name and same two initials! Coincidence or fate? You decide.

If anyone has seen Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, also starring George Clooney, they may get a sense of d’jà vu. Besides the same actor playing the lead in both films, the two films have the same vibe — the “cool” vibe. Ocean’s 11 is filled with finger-snapping beats that seems taken from the original Ocean’s 11, made in 1960 starring the Rat Pack. Not having seen the original, I couldn’t compare the two movies, although I hear the 2001 incarnation is a very faithful adaptation of the 1960 version.

Soderbergh’s version plays out more like a stylish how-to-rob-a-bank instruction video instead of an actual movie. In fact, compared to Soderbergh’s masterful and multi-layered Traffic, Ocean’s 11 looks like a shell of a movie. There really is no characterization going on, very little intensity or even a sense of dread for a heist film, which relies on the audience asking themselves, “Oh no, are they going to get caught? Are they going to get away with it?” Ocean’s 11 is filmed, acted, and plays out like a linear instruction manual, and by the time the heist itself is pulled off, you realize you’ve never felt that Danny and his crew could get caught. Actually, you never got the feeling that this crew of oddballs could fail.

Despite the lack of tension, Ocean’s 11 succeeds because it’s a fun movie to watch. Yes, there’s not much happening and you get the feeling no one’s ever in any danger, and you know the job is going to go off without a hitch — and even if any hitch shows up, it’ll be dealt with. And yet, it’s a blast to watch them hatch their elaborate plan and then pull it off. There are some minor surprises at the end, but they’re minor at best.

Although you might wonder why you’re supposed to hate Garcia’s Benedict so much, since as written and played, the man is not entirely unlikable. Are we just suppose to dislike him because he’s a billionaire and he orders Danny beaten up for sniffing around his girl? Or that the guy runs everything with clockwork precision and has an anal-retentive sense of security? Not at all. In this way, Benedict isn’t a good villain. He’s just not, well, all that villainous.

The rest of the cast does fine. Everyone exudes coolness and walks, talks, and acts like they know they’re in a movie instead of actually pulling off a heist. As I said, there’s never any sense of danger in the movie. Julia Roberts, as Tess, is not all that convincing. As a personal aside, I don’t find her particularly attractive, and as written and played, her Tess isn’t exactly someone two men would battle over. Her romance with Clooney’s Danny came off as more of a sidebar rather than an actual plot point. Did anyone out there didn’t think she’d “see the errors of her ways” and dump Benedict for Danny in the end?

Still, despite all its faults, I can’t help but enjoy the film. It’s just, well, cool.

Steven Soderbergh (director) / Ted Griffin (screenplay)
CAST: George Clooney …. Danny Ocean
Brad Pitt …. Rusty Ryan
Julia Roberts …. Tess Ocean
Matt Damon …. Linus Caldwell
Andy Garcia …. Terry Benedict
Carl Reiner …. Saul Bloom
Elliott Gould …. Reuben Tishkoff

Buy Oceans 11 on DVD