Earlier in the week I participated in Darren’s, of Movie Reviews 101, Opinion Battle Round 4 – Heist Movies. My selection was Ocean’s Eleven and it got me thinking how I hadn’t reviewed it yet. The sequels were nothing to get excited about but the original plays on all Heist sub-genre tropes and it’s glorious.
"They might as well call it whitejack!"
Steven Soderbergh’s ensemble cast of Hollywood heavy hitters smooth talk their way to the acquisition of $163 million in a daring casino heist with a groovy jazz score for company.
In North Jersey State Prison Danny Ocean sits before a sympathetic parole hearing where the question is asked, “What do you think you would do, if released?” Leading the viewer to make the connection between the synopsis and his muted ambiguity. Upon strolling out into the cold daylight dressed to the nines in the tux he was arrested in it’s clear that Danny Ocean, complemented perfectly by George Clooney’s natural debonaire swagger, is a man with big ideas.
Waltzing into an Atlantic City casino Ocean wastes no time catching up on absent luxuries. Making a bee line for one Frank Catton, a long time con man now working under the alias Ramon Escalante, Ocean begins his recruitment process.
Heading to California, in blatant violation of his parole, Ocean seeks out his long time, and fast-food indulgent partner Rusty, played by Brad Pitt. With the two together after ripping off movie stars at an amatuer poker game Ocea reveals his plan with all the ambitious trimmings to-go.
Boeski. Jim Brown. Miss Daisy. Two Jethros. Leon Spinks. Ella Fitzgerald.
The two set about recruiting the necessaries and work out they’ll “need at least a dozen guys doing a combination of cons.” The next sequence from Soderbergh is the result of meticulous craftsmanship that combines all the elements of film making into one seamless montage. The direction, editing, and bluesy soundtrack all come together to introduce us to the key players involved in the heist. While serving as a great introduction to the sheer audacity of this heist this montage also highlights each of the character’s unique traits that are limited to a few minutes of screen time. But Soderbergh uses this time to set in motion a progression of character identification that plays out across the full running time to great effect.
The ubiquity of classic acoustic jazz, bluesy riffs and groovy drums hint at the glamorous Las Vegas setting without veering to heavily into a nostalgic pattern. This approach effectively distinguishes Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven from its original 1960 Rat Pack version that features Frank Sinatra in the George Clooney role. It’s no wonder Clooney was chosen for this role if he had to fill Sinatra’s Hollywood megastar shoes. Soderbergh’s crew have created a modern heist movie that gels perfectly within a classic setting that simultaneously feels like a romantic throwback to classic heist movies while reimagining the path of the modern crime/heist caper for the modern viewer.
Unlike some of the mediocre and often lacklustre crime dramas that followed Soderbergh’s template he doesn’t rely on petty plot devices to vamp up the action or excitement. There’s no double-crosses or gratuitous violence. Soderbergh relies solely on the strength of the original story with a mastered screenplay from Ted Griffin to tell the story.
Enticing the viewer all the way Soderbergh strings together a piece of Brilliant storytelling with a classic score that at times borrows from Elvis and Perry Como to complement the action and bring the characters to life. Each performance stands alone and is instantly recognisable in other films and in repeat viewings which adds to the timelessness of this piece.
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