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Movie Review: Ocean’s Eleven

Ocean’s Eleven
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Ted Griffin based on the 1960 screenplay by Harry Brown and Charles Lederer from the story by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell
Warner Bros., 2001

Mark this film as the point where director Steven Soderbergh hit the absolute height of his powers, one that he hasn’t quite recovered from since.  After the previous year’s one-two punch of Erin Brockovich and Traffic, Soderbergh took on a remake of the Rat Pack heist picture Ocean’s Eleven, succeeded beyond all expectations, and became a Star Director.

It was a daunting task: making a picture with this much star power has a bunch of risks involving ego and the inability to keep the picture under your own reins.  But in Ocean’s Eleven, Soderbergh obviously still had a grasp of storytelling and the respect of his actors, and a movie that probably looked fun on paper turned into one that was great fun on the big screen.

Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is out of prison with a plan to rob three casinos during the night of a big fight in Vegas.  He first contacts Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) as his second-in-command.  A big job like this will require big money, so he goes for the wealthy Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) to back his plan. 

He then gets pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), techie Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison) to wreak havoc on the security systems, average joe Vegas worker Frank Catton (Bernie Mac) to infiltrate the defense, “method actor” Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) to play an important part, misfit brothers Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk Malloy (Scott Caan) for gruntwork, an acrobatic, diminutive Chinese man named Yen (Shaobo Qin) for tight situations, and a man to do some work on the Vegas power grid, the Cockney-rhyming Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle).  All of them will have a unique role in pulling off the most daring heist in history.

The man running the casinos is Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who has recently cozied up to Ocean’s ex, Tess (Julia Roberts).  The relationship serves as an unwitting player into the heist.

The fun of Ocean’s Eleven comes from several fronts.  First off, the planning of a heist of this magnitude is always a thrilling thing to watch, and the impossibility of it, much like the best scene of Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible, keeps the viewer on his toes as to how in the world it’s going to be pulled off, no matter how confident Danny Ocean appears.  Secondly, the interplay between some of the top stars of our generation is easy and funny.  Thirdly, Steven Soderbergh was still at the top of his game here, his delight in making movies everpresent.  Also, Terry Benedict, as played by Andy Garcia, is a “villain” worth conquering.  It’s just fun from start to finish.

In 2001, Ocean’s Eleven went on to gross a little over $180 million and was the 8th biggest-grossing film of the year.

Next: Ocean’s Twelve


Comment from Jonathan
Time: May 16, 2007, 8:49 pm

I agree that this is the last time it seems Soderbergh was actually having a lot of fun as a filmmaker. It is by no means his best film, but it is by all means his most entertaining. My favorite scene still remains one that has nothing to do with the heist. Brad Pitt trying to teach a lot of twenty-something stars like Topher Grace and Barry Watson how to play poker is comic genius. “I’ve got all red.” Great stuff.

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