Should I Watch..? Ocean's Eleven (2001)
What's the big deal?
Ocean's Eleven is a comedy heist movie released in 2001 and is a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film Ocean's 11. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, it features an all-star ensemble cast featuring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Elliot Gould among others. The film was a hit with critics and audiences across the world with box-office takings around $450 million. It was so successful that it spawned two sequels - Ocean's Twelve in 2004 and Ocean's Thirteen in 2007 - in what would become known as the Ocean's Trilogy. Bizarrely, it also spawned a musical theatre version in Japan which was performed by Star Troupe at Tokyo's Takarazuka Theatre in 2011-2012 as well as the all-female led spin-off Ocean's Eight in 2018.
What's it about?
Newly released from prison, smooth con-man Daniel Ocean violates his parole by travelling to California to reunite with his former running buddy Rusty Ryan. His plan is to rob three casinos in Las Vegas - the Bellagio, the MGM Grand and The Mirage - on the night of a big boxing match. Pitching the idea to flamboyant financier Reuben Tishkoff, Reuben agrees to their scheme when he figures out that the three casinos being targeted all belong to his arch rival Terry Benedict.
Danny and Rusty quickly assemble a team to assist them - talented pickpocket Linus Caldwell, croupier and inside man Frank Catton, mechanics Virgil and Turk Malloy, Chinese acrobat and contortionist The Amazing Yen, experienced con artist Saul Bloom, electronics expert Livingstone Dell and demolitions and explosives man Basher Tarr. As the crew begin plotting and rehearsing the heist, Rusty spots one potential area of concern - Benedict's current partner Tess is Danny's estranged ex-wife, meaning that Danny's unflappable nature might be compromised...
Daniel "Danny" Ocean
Basher Tarr (uncredited)
Ted Griffin *
Release Date (UK)
15th February, 2002
What's to like?
It's safe to say that Ocean's Eleven is one of the smoothest and classiest productions you'll ever see. The film seems to ooze cool from every pore with its impossibly good-looking cast, beautiful cinematography by Soderbergh himself, brilliant soundtrack and thoroughly retro atmosphere. The humour feels natural and effortless, as though these guys genuinely get up to these sorts of shenanigans off-screen. Clooney and Pitt are both a housewives' dream and a great double-act, bouncing one-liners off each other with authentic bonhomie.
The film, like most heist flicks, involves a good deal of misdirection and actually pulls it off, resulting in a thoroughly entertaining piece of escapism. But the film is more than just George & Brad posing in Vegas - the rest of the cast all have their moments from Garcia's equally suave villain drifting around the background like a hungry shark waiting to strike to Bernie Mac's hilariously corrupt croupier. I especially enjoyed Elliot Gould's gaudy moneyman with his impossibly long cigars and shocking fashion sense. What's more, the film is in on the joke as well - it knows how smooth and sexy it is but instead of getting distracted, it continues being an enjoyable adventure with Hollywood's great and good. It's fun in an old-fashioned sense, much like how movies were in the early Sixties when Sinatra and his buddies ran around town...
- Cheadle's cockney accent is widely recognised as one of the worst accents ever heard in a film. Cheadle claims that his agent told him the accent was fine and as a result, he sacked her.
- The alias that Saul adopts for the heist - Lymon Zerga - sounds a lot like the Spanish phrase "la monserga" which roughly translates means someone who is a pain in the ass.
- Mike Myers, Mark Wahlberg, Alan Arkin, Ralph Fiennes and both Luke & Owen Wilson all dropped out of the project. Bruce Willis also left but returned for a brief cameo in Ocean's Twelve.
What's not to like?
Ensemble casts tend to work best if everyone is on an even keel but it's impossible to strip away the statuses of some of its cast in order to achieve this. Yes, Clooney and Pitt and Roberts are undoubted A-listers but I'd be surprised if anyone considered Casey Affleck (Ben's brother) or Scott Caan on the same level. Hell, I'm struggling to think of anything else Eddie Jemison has been in - I don't mean any disrespect but I'm merely illustrating that these less well-known actors get kinda swamped up by the glitz and glamour of their co-stars.
The more cynical viewer could rightly argue that this film represents a shameless parade of wealth and power by the bigger names in Hollywood. It can feel a little bit like that at times as if the film is a celluloid version of one of those celeb-spotting magazines like Hello or OK. But to be frank, I was having too much fun in the neon wilderness of Vegas to notice or care - the film buries its flaws beneath a veneer of gloss so thick that you can see the reflection of the famous fountains in front of the Bellagio.
Should I watch it?
More than just a parade of Hollywood A-listers, Soderbergh's effortlessly cool and endlessly enjoyable picture remains one of the most entertaining escapades you're likely to see. Ocean's Eleven might only bear a passing resemblance to its 1960 inspiration but with a deft comedic touch, stunning cinematography and winning performances from all corners of its starry cast list, this is one film coming up trumps.
Great For: Las Vegas residents, people who wear sunglasses indoors, female viewers
Not So Great For: action junkies, casino owners, cynics
What else should I watch?
The original 1960 version of Ocean's 11 featuring Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Angie Dickinson and Peter Lawford matches the style and vibe its remake has in spades but substitutes some of the comedy for a couple of musical numbers instead. Sadly, it's a case of overkill for the two sequels. Ocean's Twelve is a shark-jumping disaster which dispenses with all the goodwill bestowed on this film and instead simply follows its cast around the more picturesque parts of northern Italy with an incomprehensible story lurking somewhere in the background. It was so bad that I still haven't found the courage to watch Ocean's Thirteen but as far as I can gather, it's hardly a return to form.
Great heist movies are hard to find. Another iconic Sixties picture - The Italian Job - was nearly ruined by a god-awful remake in 2003 but it remains an intriguing and fun mix of caper and car chase picture. Entrapment couldn't escape the queasy age gap of its two stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery or its too-clever-by-half screenplay while the equally disappointing Duplicity doesn't even try to give the viewer a chance to figure it out.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox