The original Ocean’s 11 featured a bunch of entertainers trying to be actors. The new Ocean’s series has featured a bunch of actors trying to be entertainers, and it took them until the third one to get it right. Ocean’s 13 isn’t worried about the heist or the story, it’s interested in taking these actors and placing them into as many situations as possible where they can be cool, funny or just have a good time. The whole plot of Ocean’s 13 is shaggy and more than a little sloppy – but who gives a shit? If you want to see a clockwork heist movie filled with realistic criminals overcoming realistic obstacles, move along. If you want to spend two hours having breezy good times, this is the movie for you.
Which isn’t to say that Ocean’s 13 is a stupid movie. It’s like the ultimate beer – tastes great, gets you drunk and actually burns calories. And there’s an undercurrent to the movie which slyly critiques capitalism and global trade as it affects our lives – the film follows the power and value of the dollar all the way from the people who have the least of it (and to whom it means the most ) to the people who have all of it (and to whom it’s just a status symbol). The story this time stretches from the newest, most high tech casino on the Vegas strip to the dirt poor Mexican factory where the toxic chemicals are mixed to make dice. And it doesn’t break a sweat going there, and director Steven Soderbergh doesn’t turn it into Traffic Part 2. Ocean’s 13 smartly and funnily shows how money is the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. Just like that beer.
What this film does best is unleash George Clooney’s Danny Ocean and Brad Pitt’s Rusty from the time/space continuum – they stroll through the movie like lounge lizard lords, popping up where and when they’re needed but not being yoked to the story in such a way that they have to pull everything along. That gives Clooney and Pitt to make like they’re on Hugh Hefner’s old swinging Playboy’s Penthouse show while letting the rest of the cast step up and have a number of great moments. The action is spread out pretty evenly this time, giving everybody a chance to shine – this really is the perfect movie for Casey Affleck’s fan.
Opposite the usual gang of con men and thieves is Al Pacino, reminding us why we used to think he was a good actor. I caught Serpico this weekend on TV and I wondered if maybe Al Pacino didn’t quit acting when his voice got gravelly; back when he was a squeaky kid he seemed so real and so legit. Al’s not real or legit here, but he’s also not HOO-HAing his way through the scenery like a starving school of piranha. He’s reined in, a study in cool menace. His assistant is the world’s ultimate MILF, Ellen Barkin, dripping out of her dresses and not being afraid to take one on the chin for a laugh. Together they make worthy opponents for a bunch of crooks who won’t even deign to break a sweat, and whose screw-ups are always timed to the second.
As for the story – well, it’s a revenge film this time, and Soderbergh and writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien don’t waste a second, getting the crew together to start their plan moments after the movie opens. That’s the way it should be in the third installment – we know these guys and we don’t need a long winded reason for them to get together again. Just the fact that they want to clown around should be more than enough. And the plot that they carry out is one that’s best not to think about. If an earthquake is needed, these guys will bring an earthquake. If you need to take the bad guy’s eyes off a computer screen, Don Cheadle (who finally gets the chance to really kick back, have a blast and shine here) will show up and stage an elaborate ruse. Does it make actual sense? Nah. Is it great? Of course. Would it work? If Danny Ocean told me it would, I’d believe him. If only the third Pirates film had learned from the laissez-fair attitude this movie takes to plot twists, turns and betrayals - they're in there, but they don't overwhelm the story and the fun because Soderbergh knows that's not why we're in theaters.
Soderbergh and company have said this is the last Ocean’s film, and it should be – they finally got it right. This is the best of the three, and proof that threepeats don’t always have to let us down. Anything that comes after will only tarnish the cocktail hour perfection of this movie.