What do you want from a movie featuring Danny Ocean and friends? Are you looking for a clockwork heist, or a light glimpse into the cult of personality that surrounds Clooney, Pitt, et al? Stung by the dismissal of Ocean’s Twelve, Soderbergh and company have gone light on the self-referential jokes (though they’re still here, most notably in the final scene) and back to the mechanics of a massive heist, but they haven't really decided to take things more seriously.
Me, I want a mix of both. I enjoyed the heist of Ocean’s Eleven and the pure ‘famous people at work’ aspect of the sequel. So in theory I should love Ocean’s Thirteen, and I certainly had a fantastic time watching it. The film is so packed with gags and tiny bits of character that I got a giggle out of at least every other scene. In the summer of 2007, full of leaden action flicks, that counts for a lot.
And yet the heist fan in me walked out uncertain and has become more…not irritated at the film, but certainly less sold on it. So much so that I toyed with doing a gimmick review with the ‘pure entertainment’ and ‘heist fan’ sides of my brain duking it out. Terrible idea, I know, and I also know that the heist here is the machinery, not the operator, and I should just forget it.
Ocean’s Thirteen opens with no regard for those who haven’t seen one or both previous films. I respect that. We don’t need an intro to Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty (Brad Pitt), the right hand man who, once again, is always eating. In real cinematic shorthand, we see their friend Rueben (Elliot Gould) get rooked in the hotel biz by land shark Willie Bank (Al Pacino). Pacino’s skin is as leathery as the dop kit my grandfather gave me years ago, so Rueben really should have seen it coming.
The betrayal gives the old rube a heart condition, and the rest of the crew decides to hit Bank where it hurts in return. Namely, they want to bilk him of half a billion, and ideally steal the diamonds that represent awards won by his other hotels. To do so they enlist Eddie Izzard (again) and Andy Garcia, reluctantly. Julia Roberts is MIA, but at least Vincent Cassel makes an appearance. No returning player is given so much as a cursory introduction, but that’s the nature of this film – fast and very brief from scene to scene.
I admire a lot of things about the script by Brian Koppelman and David Levein, most notably the way they're able to leap nimbly from one member of the massive cast to another. Don Cheadle has always seemed slighted in this series; here he gets a lot more time, as do Casey Affleck and Scott Cann. (Their Mexican subplot is, and I hate to use this word, but a hoot. Really.) If anything, the script is almost too egalitarian in doling out time to the cast. You'll likely want more of Clooney and Pitt -- the other guys are great fun, but they're the masterminds, and we should see more of them at work.
For their part, Clooney and Pitt don’t really act, but mostly stand around and look handsome and clever. I can’t really begrudge them that. Pacino and Ellen Barkin (as Bank’s assistant) do bring at least some enthusiastic scenery chewing, and Matt Damon continues his assault on the image of a very smart, slightly paranoid guy who’s in just a few inches over his head.
I don’t, however, admire the script exclusively. Two things bugged me, and this is where I’ve got to speak as a huge heist fan. There's never any sense that the crew is going to fail, so you'll not get any rush of elation when any one part of the plan comes off properly. Since this movie is really is a deep bow to our fascination with celebrity at work, that's not a surprise. Soderbergh & Co. know that we like these guys and are here to see them succeed.
But, man, gimme something. Unlike in the first film, there's no reveal, so there's never a point where the audience is meant to wonder how the plan is possibly going to work. (OK, there are a couple of small reveals that an embryo would see coming.) There are moments where things break down, but I never thought the roadblocks were real, and you probably won’t either.
That leads into my second complaint, which is that there's no real crescendo to the film. We're bombarded with the minutiae of the heist plan from almost the first frame, and that continues right until the end. The script is so OCD about showing every little smart trick being pulled that at times it's like watching Zodiac again, only with characters who smile.
Because it is a smart script, you won’t be left in the dust by mentally checking out for a moment or going to take a leak. The heist isn’t so terribly complicated; there’s just a lot of it.
The bombardment of detail continues until the movie ends, and without any big dramatic moments or breaks. Koppelman and Levein have come up with some fun ideas, but I would have sacrificed one or two in order to make room for an arc. The action here, rapid-fire and entertaining as it is, is dangerously close to a flat line.
Alternately, I'd be happier with the procedural if this was a tribute to a classic like Jules Dassin's Rififi -- in other words, if the heist was at least remotely plausible. But Danny Ocean's crew is a bunch of supermen with the money, connections and time to accomplish seemingly anything. And no one in 2007 wants to sit through a twenty minute drilling segment with no sound. I know this, I really do.
These criticisms started to filter in well after the film was over; during the running time I really enjoyed myself. And I have a feeling that when I see Ocean’s Thirteen again I’ll know the deal and won’t be so worried about the MacGuffin-ish heist. This is a big Hollywood-style good time, and knowing that I’ll be able to vicariously have the fun that everyone on screen is having, and that’s exactly the idea.
7.5 out of 10