27 July 2002 | Buddy-51
a pleasant souffle of a film
Steven Soderbergh's remake of `Ocean's Eleven' is a stylish heist picture featuring some of the brightest stars in moviemaking today. The cast includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and Matt Damon from the A-list, as well as such established veterans as Andy Garcia, Elliot Gould and Carl Reiner in there playing along with them. Coming right off the heels of two highly acclaimed, award-laden serious dramas (`Traffic' and `Erin Brockovich'), it's understandable that Soderbergh might have been in the mood for something a little lighter in tone right about now. Well, he has certainly found it with this property, which sails along smoothly like a well-oiled machine, with no angst-filled messages or heavy-handed themes to gum up the works.
Taking the basic premise from the original 1960 film (which featured a who's-who of Hollywood stars of its own day), Soderbergh has updated it to reflect the advanced technological realities of the 21st Century. In this film, recently paroled Daniel Ocean (Clooney) has decided to mastermind the robbing of not one but three major Las Vegas casinos all owned by the nefarious Terry Benedict (Garcia). The rub is that Benedict has also recently added Ocean's ex-wife, Tess (Roberts), to his list of assets, which gives Ocean additional incentive to take Benedict for everything he's got. One of the amazing things is that the filmmakers use an actual casino as their target (the Bellagio) rather than devising a fictional one for their story's purpose. One might think it could give certain audience members the wrong ideas. Be that as it may, the director does a fine job exploiting the Vegas setting, taking us right into the heart of casino operations.
A film like `Ocean's Eleven' stands or falls on the charisma of its stars, the intricacy of its plotting and the plausibility of its actions. Luckily for the audience, the film pretty much succeeds on all three counts. Scenarist Ted Griffin does a fine job gathering together the men who will participate in the heist, allowing each a moment or two to define his character and to become part of the team. The details of the plan itself are explained in very clear terms so that we rarely feel as if we are not able to follow the action. There is even an inspired use of `Clair de Lune' near the end of the picture to lend an air of romanticism to the accomplishment, for who would deny that such large-scale thievery has often carried with it a certain element of idealism and romance? After all, look how many books and films have featured robbers as heroes. It perhaps explains why Tess can go from being a principled, law-abiding citizen at the beginning of the film to being an accomplice in crime at the end, all for the love of a man and we cheer her for it.
Unlike in Soderbergh's other films, we do not find hidden depths lurking beneath the shining handsome surface of this movie, and we certainly carry no nutritious food for thought away with us from this film as we did from the others. In fact, `Ocean's Eleven' is all ABOUT shining handsome surface and it makes no pretension of being about anything else. It's cinematic junk food of the highest order, but, then, since when has junk food not been satisfying?