Ocean's Eleven (2001) Movie Review

In the words of George Peppard from his immortal role on TV's The A-Team, I love it when a plan comes together, and, man, does it ever come together in nearly every possible way in Steven Soderbergh's very clever, stylish, slick, and engrossing remake of the Rat Pack ensemble heist film Ocean's Eleven.

Since his feature debut with sex, lies and videotape, Soderbergh has walked the tenuous line between art and entertainment. He very rarely insults his audiences' intelligence or sense of humor or style -- even when he busted into the Hollywood big time. Now, a year after picking up his Oscar for the epic Traffic, he shows his range by dipping back into his old cheeky, seductive comedic bag of tricks last seen in Out of Sight. He even brings back Sight leading man George Clooney as crew boss Danny Ocean.

Ocean, just released from prison, immediately starts planning the biggest heist in Las Vegas history: Rob three casinos owned by Vegas magnate Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) -- who also happens to be dating Ocean's ex-wife Tess (Juila Roberts).

Ocean's right-hand man Dusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) starts putting the crew together, and Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould) -- who's looking for revenge for Benedict closing down his casino -- finances the massive undertaking. The team is a band of misfits, all with something to offer: techie (Eddie Jemison), shadow (Matt Damon), munitions expert (Don Cheadle), inside man (Bernie Mac), mechanics (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan), seasoned veteran (Carl Reiner), and a Chinese gymnast (Shaobo Qin). You gotta have a Chinese gymnast.

Their only problem is the safe they're looking to crack is the impregnable Bellagio vault under the Las Vegas Strip. The take? Only $150 million. And, of course, once they get the cash, they have to get out. Easy enough.

But truly, it really is easy enough... or at least Soderbergh makes it seem that way. To start, the script is impeccably efficient to the point where you float along on its rapid fire dialogue like a raft over rapids. The structure of the heist is totally plausible, even down to its most technical high-tech details. And it never robs us of character development, a rare trait in most action/heist movies.

All that great writing isn't lost on this incredible cast. Clooney is very much his old charming self, delivering lines in his classic cool, smirky way. Pitt is mostly action, but handles his very essential bits of dialogue with aplomb. Gould is hilariously neurotic, and Garcia is coldly menacing. And, while I was worried about Julia Roberts, she's effectively sly, quiet, and very pretty in her role. Reiner is phenomenal in his relatively minor part. And, even Bernie Mac manages to level us with some hilarious monologues.

And pulling all the strings is -- you guessed it -- Soderbergh. Honestly, Ocean's Eleven is not his finest film. It's certainly more popcorn than masterpiece, but it's so beautifully watchable and enjoyable that you'll happily inhale its jazzy, madcap ether. And, perhaps, be glad that you're not watching the Rat Pack version.

For the most part, this Ocean's Eleven is barely a remake of the 1960 film starring Frank Sinatra and his Las Vegas pals. The original had the eleven robbing five casinos; this one, the guys rob three. Otherwise, the only similarity is that this redo maintains that incredible old school class -- meaning no cursing, sex, nudity, or gore. And, yes, it's still fantastic. Imagine that -- a Hollywood remake actually better than the original.

The DVD highlights include two commentary tracks (one from Damon, Garcia, and Pitt), another from Soderbergh and writer Ted Griffin -- but the film itself is so much fun it's impossible to listen to these guys go on and on. You keep turning back to the movie for the action and the clever dialogue. And eventually you just leave it there. Highly recommended.

Is he in or is he out?


Ocean's Eleven (2001) Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: PG-13, 2001


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