After grabbing the attention of both critics and audiences with stirring dramatic pieces, such as “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic”, director Steven Soderbergh moved on to some lighter and definitely more fun-loving fare in 2001. By helming the remake of the Rat Pack classic, “Ocean’s Eleven”, Soderbergh proved that not only could he deliver top-notch, Oscar caliber films, but also a money-making crowd pleaser when the occasion arose.
“Ocean’s Eleven” is the story of a recently paroled thief, Danny Ocean (George Clooney), as he attempts to reassemble his life prior to incarceration. As Danny soon discovers finding a way to put one’s life back together may be much harder than he thought. In his mind, one of the only ways to successfully reclaim what was once his is to pull yet another job. To do this he will enlist the aid of a cadre of fellow thieves in an attempt to pull off one of the most daring, brilliant, and undeniably dangerous heists to ever occur within the city of Las Vegas.
Whenever a director, actor, producer or studio attempts to remake a classic film for modern audiences, finding success with said film will almost always be a chore. This is especially true if the original in question happens to be a beloved film, especially by Sinatra fans. For starters, all those behind the newest interpretation must have an extremely clear vision for what they want out of the film, and be willing to take some calculated risks with it, not just simply do a retread of the original. Of course, the audience should obviously expect any remake to feature some differences, both large and small, that deviate from the original film; however, in doing so comes the chance that fans of the original may not be so forgiving of certain alterations and/or omissions. Secondly, the story will inevitably draw an obvious comparison to its predecessor, and if the new one doesn’t even remotely measure up in the audiences and critics’ eyes, then nothing else will matter. Finally, if the first two steps are accomplished, then the casting has got to be perfect, or close to it. For a movie this size to even compare, means that an extremely capable ensemble cast must be assembled in order to equal the star power and talent of the original.
Let’s start with the screenplay for “Ocean’s Eleven”, as written by Ted Griffin (“Rumor Has It…”). Griffin’s well-written, tightly focused and fast-paced story gives audiences a caper film that exudes confidence and embraces a fun-loving attitude without sacrificing good storytelling. A lot of the fun to be had by this movie rests in the interplay between the Ocean’s crew of professional criminals, social misfits, and borderline sociopaths. The quick-witted, slyly sarcastic banter provides many of the film’s funniest moments, if you were fast enough and paying close attention to catch the subtlety hidden within the dialogue. Another intriguing part of the story was the time devoted to the planning and preparation involved in putting together such a multi-faceted con job.
Of course, I don’t want to forget to mention that aside from the two things I listed above, the remainder of the film is a noteworthy example of how to tell a really complicated story, but without making it so confusing that the audience is too easily lost. I will admit that there were moments within the script where it seems the movie came dangerously close to becoming too overly complicated. Yet just when it’s about to go over that edge, Griffin reigns the story back in to avoid the dreaded pitfall.
The cast for “Ocean’s Eleven” features some of the greatest screen legends and icons that Hollywood has to offer. From George Clooney to Brad Pitt, Carl Reiner to Elliot Gould, Julia Roberts to Matt Damon, and Andy Garcia to Don Cheadle, this wide range of talent on display is arguably one of the finest ever assembled within a single film. What’s more is that the camaraderie between the cast members portraying the titular characters is so genuine and natural that they make the movie all the more enjoyable.
One more thing in regards to the cast, the two members that seemed to stand out the most for me was Andy Garcia and Matt Damon. Both actors were playing characters that seemed very different from their previous work. For Andy Garcia, I hadn’t seen him in a villainous role before, at least not to my recollection; yet, I thought he portrayed the smarmy nature of the character perfectly, and the subtle hint of malice in all that he does made him the perfect foil to Clooney’s Danny Ocean. With Matt Damon, the majority of roles I had seen him in have always been more serious in tone, but with his character of Linus in this film he is almost the complete opposite. His portrayal is much more comedic and at times the character clearly appears overwhelmed by everything going on around him. While Linus is competent at his criminal niche, his determination to prove himself to the others tends to spotlight his own insecurities regarding his proficiency at pulling a job; thus providing for many of the lighter moments from his character within the film.
As for fans of the original film, I believe that despite the changes and updates made to the original’s story, most will be happy with the end results. The cast and crew seemed to take pride in making the film in a way that resembles the original, yet remains distinctively separate from it. Not to mention this new version, in my opinion, openly attempts to honor and improve upon what has come before rather than trample and disrespect its predecessor.
“Ocean’s Eleven” is a slickly composed, fast-paced, and above all enjoyable film from a director that had previously been known for his intensely dramatic pieces rather than fun-loving audience pleasers. Featuring an all-star cast, numerous twists and turns, a plethora of engaging characters and a plot that is both intelligent and entertaining, “Ocean’s Eleven” is a terrific update to one of Hollywood’s legendary classics.
“Ocean’s Eleven” is rated PG-13 for language.