Steven Soderbergh had a very big year last year some may argue one of the best years ever for a director. He was doubly nominated for best director (winning for “Traffic”) and for best film at the Academy Awards. “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic” did not only bring Soderbergh widespread recognition, but he now also has the power to make what pictures he wants, and actors everywhere are dying to appear in his films. This newfound clout brings us to “Ocean”s 11,” a film that aims not for the Oscars but for a most entertaining time at the movies, and it accomplishes this goal unquestionably.
What may first appear as stunt casting actually turns out to be one of the best ensemble acting performances in recent memory. The names Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and more may seem too good to be true in one movie, with each making their split second cameos and that”s it, but each actor receives more than adequate time on screen and their shining stars radiate with each sequence.
Danny Ocean (Clooney) has recently been paroled, and he wastes no time getting back to his previous profession, larceny. The target is the vault of the Bellagio Hotel, which on the night of a championship boxing match also contains the holdings of two other Las Vegas casinos. This $150 million job is of course no piece of cake, and Ocean immediately starts to assemble his crew there are 11 necessary cohorts. After enlisting card dealer Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), Ocean heads to L.A. for his old partner Rusty Ryan (Pitt), who is teaching gambling to “Tiger Beat cover boys,” (who are played by real teen stars themselves think “Dawson”s Creek” and “That “70s Show”).
With Ryan”s help, the rest of the crew comes together: Damon plays pickpocket Linus Caldwell. The financial support comes from a casino owner (Elliot Gould) who has it in for Bellagio owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). Scott Caan and Casey Affleck are a couple of driving experts who also provide lots of humor with their little arguments. Carl Reiner is a retired con man easily lured back into business. Don Cheadle is a British explosives expert with an odd vocabulary, and an acrobat (Shaobo Qin) and surveillance man (Edward Jemison) round out the pack.
Also thrown into the mix is Tess (Roberts), Benedict”s girlfriend, who may have some history with the man with the plan himself, Ocean.
The pilfering team is definitely interested in getting its hands on all that money, but it is truly the challenge of the job and the joy of working collectively that brings it together. The men have fun training, planning and then stealing the actors must be having fun playing these well written roles and spitting out the quick, clever dialogue and the audience may have more fun than anyone, riding the roller coaster”s turns and dips even though they are well aware of the ride”s end.
Soderbergh”s style is everywhere it is in the music, the photography, the editing it bleeds cool. Great performances are also found everywhere you look. In the leads, Clooney, Pitt, Roberts, Garcia and Damon show no ego, constantly giving to other actors and never overplaying the material. Clooney and Roberts look as good as ever, while Pitt also looks good despite the fact that he is seen eating in almost every sequence, a great in-joke of the film.
Shining through amongst this horde of stars are the performances of Gould, Reiner and Cheadle. Gould can now be seen in episodes of “Friends” as Mr. Geller, but he is still a deftly talented comedic actor who has sadly faded from sight. Reiner is another comic genius who has disappeared to a new generation he reemerges in a major way with “Ocean”s 11,” out-acting today”s new elite and hopefully garnering a best supporting actor nomination for his trouble.
And finally there”s Cheadle, who somehow manages to steal moviegoers” attention with every character he plays. His exciting, natural performance as Roscoe Means continues a masterful run, including “The Rat Pack” and “Boogie Nights,” that demands he be offered more lead roles.
“Ocean”s 11” does not try to completely reproduce its Frank Sinatra starring predecessor in plot or details, but what it does copy is the feel of a Rat Pack film.
You walk out of this movie wanting to be these guys, or at least hang out with them. There is only one word for them: Cool. Soderbergh”s very under-appreciated “Out of Sight” had the same feel they may be the bad guys robbing the bank, but it sure is a lot of fun to watch and root for them.