Ocean's Eleven (2001) **
Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Written by Ted Griffin. Photography, Steven. Soderbergh. Editing, Stephen Mirrione. production design, Philip Messina. Music, David Holmes. Producer, Jerry Weintraub. Cast: George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Matt Damon (Linus Caldwell), Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict), Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan), Julia Roberts (Tess Ocean), Casey Affleck (Virgil Malloy), Scott Caan (Turk Malloy), Don Cheadle (Basher Tarr), Elliott Gould (Reuben Tishkoff), Bernie Mac (Frank Catton); Carl Reiner (Saul Bloom), Shane West (Himself), Joshua Jackson (Himself), Topher Grace (Himself), Eddie Jemison (Livingston Dell), Lennox Lewis and Dr. Wladimir Klitschko (the Boxers). A Warner Brothers release. 110 minutes. PG-13.
A remake (in general subject and name only) of "Ocean's Eleven" (1960), that poor, smug movie in which the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop) debuted as a group. Sinatra, the leader, plays Danny Ocean, which is a misleading name that somehow makes you expect something nautical. In "reality" he gets together a bunch of his World War II buddies, all veterans of the 82d Airborne, in order to commit the heist to end all heists of Las Vegas casinos. The cast included non-Rats such as Richard Conte, Cesar Romero, Akim Tamiroff, Henry Silva, Buddy Lester. Red Skelton (walk-on), George Raft, and others, as well as ladies Ilka Chase and Angie Dickinson.
(All those names were big in 1960. Test your knowledge of major actors with the list above.)
That movie sold many tickets--on the strength of the public's curiosity about the Rat Pack. It was and is a pretty awful film which I rate with at most one *. It is slow, flat, way overacted, shouts to you from the screen "how cute I am!": but is, in fact, insufferably smug. Almost the full first half is diffuse and taken up by the exposition of too many characters. The Rats clearly hog the film and the screen time, especially the main oh so cool hepcats Sinatra, Martin and Lawford. They seem to have a divine right of extended exposure and exposition. Such non-Rats as Romero and Tamiroff get here the worst lines of their careers. By and large the dominant element in the movie is gratuitous chatter,banter, dumb chit-chat, booze, and heavy cuteness.
As for the second half, the action proper, the least said about it, the better, especially since the entire stealing process is overshadowed by the hamming-it-up stuff. To be fair, there is a last-second closing gag which is excellent and worth 90 cents of a one-dollar ticket. And to think that Ocean's One was directed by Russian-born Lewis Milestone (real name Lev Milstein) who among others movies made many classics: "All Quiet on the Western Front," "The Front Page," "Rain,""The General Died as Dawn," "Of Mice and Men," "A Walk in the Sun,""The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,""Pork Chop Hill," and the 1962 "Mutiny on the Bounty."
Mercifully, Ocean's Two does not follow closely Ocean's One. ut it it still the same overall premise. The instant Clooney, the new Danny Ocean, is released from prison on parole, he sets a Vegas mega-heist going by recruiting old and new acquaintances. His people are a motley and more heterogenous group than in the older film. One of them is Don Cheadle whose Brit accent some viewers have called Cockney but I think it is East Indian. None of the too-many-to-describe accolytes steals the show or gets more focus than the others, except, of course, George Clooney. The equilibrium is OK.
The second main role goes to Andy Garcia who runs the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. I could not figure out whether he was the owner, the manager or the top security Pajandrum. What it clear is that in Vegas we also meet his lady-loveTess, that is Julia Roberts, who is Danny's ex-wife. Danny wants her back more than he wants a zillion dollars. This gets awkwardly mixed into the plot. In fact Julia R's presence is also awkward. She plays a kind of art museum curator.Her small part is sort of shooed into the picture, her expensive outfits are chic and tasteful, but the camera does not especially flatter her looks, including her 1960s bouffant hairdo which, if anything stresses that Julia is XXXXXXXXXXXX
This brings me to the color cinematography by director Soderbergh himself. Was it a defective print I saw? Or was it planned that way? The fact is that the color was often ugly and grainy, something like a blowup of a home movie. If on purpose, I see no reason for this technique.
The other objection - a big one - is that the "meat" of the movie is, of course, the heist. How it is prepared, plotted, planned, re-planned and studied; how its technical mechanism is minutely calculated and the who, what, when, of each operation presented is something you have to take on faith. I doubt that any spectator, on seeing this movie once (and I do not think there are many who could watch it twice), can come up with a rational description and explanation of the heist system. Arbitrariness seems to reign in the script. The movie is extremely fragmented in every way. Indeed, so much is elliptical that the more the film progresses --or should I say, goes through the projector--the more one focuses on the high-tech things, the less one cares about the characters. And it is a fact that high-tech cannot begin to involve the viewer as much as people --who, here, take a distant back-seat to things, machines, metal, and such.
In other words, gadgetry muddles the waters... and suspense suffers. Suspense needs concentration. Concentration needs clarity. Clarity needs human beings. That's what the Master, Alfred Hitchcock, knew to perfection. His movies were not about things, but about people. Interesting people, including the villains. In other words yet, King Alfred's films were "clean," which is not the case with most action movies.