**½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B
starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt
screenplay by Ted Griffin
directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Walter Chaw Impeccably-costumed and impossibly-handsome action figures are arranged in cool poses throughout Ocean's Eleven, Steven Soderbergh's updating of the same-named Rat Pack caper. A throwback to the star-driven cinema of the Fifties and a reflection of our own fanatical interest in cults of personality, the film features transparent performances (with the exception of Don Cheadle, each performer in Ocean's Eleven is playing his- or herself), and the same kind of sadistic voyeurism that impels us to simultaneously deify and find fault with our favourite actors keeps our peepers glued to the screen as George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Elliot Gould, and Carl Reiner revolve around one another in a loose heist intrigue intended to relieve Andy Garcia of both his millions and his girlfriend.
Less than a week after being released from prison, the incorrigible scamp Danny Ocean (Clooney) assembles a motley band of grifters in a plot to rob three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously. Ocean's motives may not be entirely motivated by financial greed, however, as his ex-wife Tess (Roberts) is currently involved with Benedict (Garcia), the head of the targeted casinos. Ocean's number two is no-nonsense Rusty (Pitt), his demolitions expert is Cockney caricature Roscoe (Cheadle), and his master pickpocket is Linus (Damon). But the best character is the chronically anxious surveillance expert Livingston, played by the all-but-unknown Eddie Jemison. The first act assembles the team, the second lays out the burglaries, and the third ties it all up in a flash of style and attitude. Ocean's Eleven is The Dirty Dozen by way of The Sting, living and dying on the highwire between "hey, I wish I were like these people" and "hey, get over yourself." Luckily, the film remains firmly in the realm of the former in every instance except for a few involving a pair of irritating stunt driver brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan).
That Ocean's Eleven works as well as it does is testament to Soderbergh's command of pace, reserve with the camera, ability to harness a large cast, and interest in character and clarity--skills honed in the director's own difficult and rewarding Traffic. Unlike Traffic, Ocean's Eleven is anything but hard-bitten (as Out of Sight and The Limey, Soderbergh's other forays into crime cinema, were) and has nothing controversial to say about anything save perhaps incidental comments on race. (Soderbergh's film doubles the quotient of African-Americans with Cheadle and Bernie Mac while introducing an Asian actor: Shaobo Qin as an acrobat and contortionist. One step forward, one step back.)
With a cast as large as this, it comes as a surprise that each of the characters is given a moment and an even greater one that there's still room for a large number of cameos from Las Vegas glitterati and a gaggle of self-mocking regulars from teen-oriented TV. Most impressively, Ocean's Eleven is free of cruelty and sexuality, free of violence and very much profanity, and free of the pretense that it is something other than a sleek, expert star piece. The film is fuelled by the vicarious thrill provided by a lot of money, romantic imprisonment, a nice wardrobe, pulling one over on an arrogant jerk, and having a chance at winning back the starlet. We like to imagine the bold and the beautiful in hip scenarios and Ocean's Eleven is the perfect vehicle for that kind of daydreaming.
Steven Soderbergh once again participates in the creation of the DVD for one of his films with Ocean's Eleven, contributing a collaborative commentary with the movie's screenwriter, Ted Griffin. This is a great talk, even if Soderbergh's presumed exhaustion pokes through: He doesn't seem to have the energy for Griffin, who's occasionally looking for clarification on matters of improvisation and shooting technique. (Remember that Soderbergh served as his own director of photography under the pseudonym Peter Andrews; he comes across as largely dissatisfied with the results.) It's interesting to hear some of the same points glossed over by Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, and Commentary King Brad Pitt in their separate group-yakker: Griffin defends Soderbergh's decision to cut the line that concluded the prison prologue (which can be heard in the trailer), for instance, while Pitt, et al bemoan the removal of said quip. Both rap sessions are the very definition of easy listening, respectful of the listening audience by not indulging in too many in-jokes--or, at least, rationalizing them along the way.
"The Making of Ocean's Eleven" (labelled "Behind the Scenes"; 15 mins.) intercuts one-dimensional interviews with the ensemble (including Soderbergh, Griffin, and producer Jerry Weintraub), though Clooney is relatively scarce. JM Kenny's better "Ocean's Eleven: The Look of the Con" (9 mins.) features extensive interview footage with costume designer Jeffrey Kurland, who discusses his involved approach to dressing each member of Danny's crew, not to mention Garcia and Roberts. Anamorphic trailers (one theatrical and two teasers that play more like TV commercials), ROM-enabled weblinks, and a chance to enter Ocean's Eleven-themed sweepstakes round out the disc, which contains a glowing transfer of the film proper. Letterboxed at 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16x9 displays (a pan-and-scan version is being released separately), the image is purposefully grainy and slightly oversharpened, but the vivid colours and crisp contrast compensate. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is rich and broad, although the deep bass the safe explosion exhibited in theatres seems toned down. Originally published: April 20, 2002.