Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, Elliott Gould, Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Bernie Mac, Shaobo Qin, Eddie Jemison
Plot: Con artist, Danny Ocean (Clooney) is released from prison and immediately puts together a team to steal from the casino owner (Garcia) sleeping with his ex-wife (Roberts).
Ocean’s Eleven is a very easy film to take for granted. It is loud, glossy cinema, designed to be as slickly entertaining as possible. The actors aren’t so much acting, as putting on louder than life versions of themselves. Brad Pitt plays the kind of man you hope that the actor Brad Pitt actually is. George Clooney coasts by on charisma. Even Garcia sticks to his stock role of nasty businessman. It is also a film that is easy to poke holes in. After a second watch, you stop being mesmerised by the dialogue, pacing and general coolness and start making fun of Don Cheadle’s naff English accent, the fact that Julia Roberts is lumped with less than half a character and the glaring flaws in Garcia’s casino security. It is much easier to criticise than to create and Ocean’s Eleven is a prime target for tearing down something for fun.
But sit back and just take Ocean’s Eleven in. This is Steven Soderbergh at, perhaps not his most thoughtful, but his most commercial. The question is: whether this is a good thing or not. Ocean’s Eleven is likely to be falsely accused of being a big, dumb, fun movie, but that is being very harsh to what Soderbergh has devised. Ocean’s Eleven is a movie bursting with intelligence. It is a testament to the sharp writing that Soderbergh takes this much cleverness and makes it look lazy. Like all good con movies, and perhaps Ocean’s Eleven is the top of the pack, the plot is layered so densely that, while perhaps no one gets the screen-time or development they deserve, there is never a dull moment. Character arc piles on top of sub-plot. It is the kind of film that, on every rewatch, you remember something new about it, like a jigsaw puzzle that keeps on giving. That first watch is amazing as the con totally blind-sides you; even when you think you’ve figured it all out, Soderbergh, pretty much a con artist himself, pulls the rug right from underneath your feet. And on a second watch, you feel like fools for missing the obvious clues he has laid out for you. This is the closest cinema has come to a magician’s trick. But like a magic show, learning the secrets kills the fun, hence why Ocean’s Eleven hasn’t aged well. When you’ve pulled apart the strands, thrown a few lacklustre sequels into the mix, it is hard to view this movie in the same positive light as it once was. But breaking this story down and there is smarts when it comes to making a movie as glossy as this. Ignore the fact that the screenplay must have taken ages to write and whittle down as precisely as this, but the script just sparkles at the same time. Every scene is both crucial with exposition, but still finds time to be fun. Clooney and Pitt have unshakeable chemistry, making a conversation about nothing feel like the funniest thing in the world. Sometimes those two actors can have a room laughing with the simple raise of an eyebrow. Hell, one scene sees Brad Pitt lands a laugh by actually doing nothing. It’s a film that wins you over with a cheeky wink and a smile, but entertaining is rarely this much fun.
Final Verdict: Don’t let the big fun set-pieces fool you; this is Soderbergh at his smartest, turning a bloated plot into the very essence of a good time.