Notes on Ocean s Thirteen:
So Brad Pitt says:
Next time, lose weight.
And George Clooney replies:
Hey, have a couple of kids.
Then they part ways.
Oh, you guys!
It comes at the end, as you re wondering whether an Ocean s Fourteen is in the cards. Their back and forth jibes are played for a sort of manly melancholy, their friendship, and the fondness they hold for each other, dangling between them. The weight comment refers to the gut Clooney put on for his Oscar-winning turn in Syriana, and the kids crack refers to, well, you probably know what it refers to. Except, it s in a movie, about a casino heist. They are not playing themselves. Even if they are.
As accomplished and large as the Ocean s Thirteen cast is everyone returns, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner, with Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, and Eddie Izzard newly registered the Fred and Barney of the Ocean s flicks remains Clooney and Pitt, with a vengeance. Between them, across three movies now, they have released two drops of sweat. I truly believe the suits worn in Ocean s Eleven are the suits in Ocean s Thirteen, and those suits were not ironed once. It s not that they know they are big iconic stars, the closest thing we get today to the old soft-focus Golden Age glamour. It s that the unflappable ease they give off is both practiced and second nature, a sham and a skill, and whatever arrogance they have has become indistinguishable from their confidence. On second thought, perhaps it s not Cary Grant and Paul Newman they re replacing, but rock stars.
You have not seen a sky in a movie like the sky you see in the first shot of Ocean s Thirteen. Bouncy Vegas jazz bellies up, followed by Pitt, whose impeccably tailored suits deserve above-the-title credit; he saunters from left to right, the camera angles up and catches nothing but Pitt and a sky removed of every cloud and star and color but a deep cobalt.
Why am I reviewing Ocean s Thirteen this way, in cobbled-together fragments? Because it s breezy, entertaining, elegant, cool as a cucumber, smart company without feeling smug, and about absolutely nothing but its own ring-a-ding-ding lack of meaning. There is a plot, but the film is honest in its thievery, and so what we re given, with more relish than this plot, is a picture constructed of asides, of doodles scribbled in the margins the blockbuster equivalent of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. It needs to be taken piecemeal, as randomly as it was designed.
The plot, as it exists, asks us to believe it s about honor among crooks, and sweet revenge, but it s eyes say no: the plot is more of a coat rack on which a paid vacation (for everyone involved) has been hung. Pacino plays the long-time casino boss Willy Bank, who enters, then reneges, on a deal with the ascoted Reuben (Elliot Gould), who faints, has a heart attack, an acute case of heartbreak, something. Whatever happens, and I m still not sure what it was, his condition inspires Danny (Clooney) to round up the old gang and break the Bank Willy s spiraling tower of a newly-opened casino. One problem, Danny says, is the casino is impregnable. There is no way to topple it, rob it of jewels and reputation, even though, by this point in the franchise, even his protests roll their eyes.
Watching Ocean s Thirteen, and enjoying Ocean s Thirteen in a way I hadn t enjoyed, say, Pirates of the Caribbean: At Wit s End, I found myself convinced the secret of these films lay in their lack of boardrooms I don t believe I saw a Power Point presentation of any sort. Oh, there s a lot of dialogue. But nobody calls an executive strategy session when they want something done. Why, on the other hand, do successful franchises these days call a never ending series of meetings with each new installment? The Matrix deteriorated into an underground bull session, the Star Wars prequels couldn t lay off the intergalactic trade councils, and when things get hairy in the new Pirates, the Pirates Local 182 convenes its biannual session. Perhaps screenwriters are taking that age-old advice and writing what they know development meetings.
The Ocean s films, on the other hand, feel as though they were made because the people involved simply like the people they re playing with. If so, it comes across. The absurdly complicated schemes the crew draws up play like a series of gimmicks sprung that morning during the cast breakfast: they infiltrate a Mexican dice manufacturer and lead a worker rebellion; Cheadle dresses as Evil Knievel; Damon wears a fake nose; Pacino flashes his big chompers; Pitt clomps around as a hippy geologist. The details, in fact, become so dizzyingly complex they hire an outside sabotage coordinator to run the mission (played by Izzard).
Sincerity? There is a single scene in Ocean s Thirteen were sincerity makes a cameo. It s the film s best moment. Clooney and Pitt, having received the news about Gould, stroll the Vegas strip at twilight and reflect on a Vegas, and by implication a Hollywood, they hardly recognize anymore, one in which people say what they mean and when they hit you, it s with a fist, not a leveraged buyout, or a lawsuit. They miss the old dirtbags, they say. The scene, like much of the film, is sleepy, and sort of cozy.
There s a running joke about Oprah Pitt finds Clooney watching Oprah, and yet, like George, Brad finds he can t pull away. He can not stop watching, and neither can the camera, which watches the show for, oh, a minute at least, without edit.
Last week, in Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl s character got flustered by a mention of camaraderie among men. She shouts: Why do guys always go there? The past Ocean s movies feigned a love interest, Julia Roberts or Catherine Zeta Jones. But this one, in Heigl s words, owns up to itself and just goes there. There s no love interest, but like the others, it is a love story, a platonic one among men who bond. Barkin gets to pretend she s driven mad for sex, but no wonder it s the least convincing bit in the picture. With dialogue so hilariously obtuse it s insider shorthand, this is a Boy s Town.
About Steven Soderbergh, who directed this one, as he directed the others. His editing is snappy and his pace is relaxed; every surface is clean and smooth, every color is a pastel. Whereas the first film shot in real casinos, this one was built on a dazzlingly ornate set of blood reds and yellow golds. It looks more expensive than some entire movies, and I believe that s the point. Soderbergh likes to work with genres and types sci-fi (Solaris), epics (Traffic), recreations (The Good German), crime thrillers (Out of Sight), rabble rousers (Erin Brockovich). Ocean s Twelve was his imitation of streamlined 60s European cinema, like Blow-Up. Ocean s Eleven was a tribute to Sinatra-era sparkle, and Ocean s Thirteen is entirely different, too: His first film without an ambition at all.
As David Edelstein wrote in New York magazine, Ocean s Thirteen is a big lie lofted into the stratosphere by grotesque amounts of Hollywood cash. Yes. And Edelstein liked it! It s hard not to. You smile all the way through. That s worth a lot. When Ocean s Thirteen is on cable, when flipping around I stumble on it, my thumb will hover, and like George and Brad and Oprah, it ll be hard to deny.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6117.
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