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Ocean’s Eleven

March 25, 2020

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Actors: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon

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Synopsis: Danny Ocean (George Clooney) gets released from prison and immediately plots his biggest sting yet: robbing the seemingly impregnable vaults of three of Las Vegas’ top casinos. He recruits ten specialists to help him execute the heist, however money isn’t the only prize Ocean has in mind…

Review: As smooth as the heist itself, Steven Soderbergh’s classy caper movie is an expert exercise in narrative efficiency. Considering the technical minutiae of the plot – a complex sting planned on three Las Vegas casinos; the need to introduce the two key leads and their respective backstories; the introduction of the nine other members of Ocean’s crew, replete with all their special ‘skills’; and the necessity of having a villain and a female romantic lead – Soderbergh does a dexterous juggling act. One of Soderbergh’s directorial merits is the fact he seems to be able to work fast, with dense narratives and across genres, and that serves him well here. The film’s opening is suitably brisk and takes us straight into the particulars of Danny Ocean’s release from jail, and, by the 30-minute mark, we’ve been introduced via neat montages to all the men recruited to his team.

If this all sounds very workmanlike, which it is, it overlooks that Soderbergh doesn’t neglect the ease and charm needed for this type of enterprise. There’s a continual meta-feel to the work. We know we’re watching movie stars having fun in Vegas, and Soderbergh and co don’t let us forget that fact. One of the best scenes is the exposition for Brad Pitt’s character. He’s teaching LA actors how to be card sharks and two of his clients are Topher Grace and Joshua Jackson who appear to be playing themselves. So when Grace, Jackson, and Pitt and Clooney’s characters leave the club later in the evening, people are lining up for autographs of Grace and Jackson when, in reality, the two big stars are Pitt and Clooney (who are, of course, in character).

In sum, it’s 105 minutes of shameless fun, and the plot stacks up surprisingly well. Again, this is testament to Soderbergh’s mastery of narrative brevity. To be churlish, the only time I struggled to suspend my disbelief was the sheer quantity of money it must have taken the crew to stage their elaborate rehearsal (which ends up playing a key part in the climactic sting). They do seem to have an almost military command of resources at the drop of a hat. The plot is otherwise pretty much hole-proof, and, although Soderbergh makes the audience privy to most of the Ocean crew’s scheming, he keeps one or two details back so that the ultimate execution of the sting is a surprise for us as much as it is for Andy Garcia’s Terry Benedict. (March 2020)

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