Dir: Steven Soderbergh
Running time: 116mins
There are two ways to remake a film. The first is the obvious way. You buy the rights to a good movie, and just try to recreate that goodness again. Sometimes this works (like the recent version of The Thomas Crown Affair
), but most times moviemakers end up with egg on their botox-injected faces. You want examples? Planet Of The Apes
. There are dozens of others, but each of these three takes a perfectly good movie, then approaches it like a star-struck tramp, and pisses all over its shoes.
The second is the sneaky way. You pick a movie that wasn't that great to begin with, but had something going for it, like a cool title, or a neat story idea, and you do it right. This is exactly what's been done with Ocean's Eleven
The 1960 version
has Frank Sinatra
and pals (Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin and so on) rob a Vegas casino. That sounds like a good movie. It's not. It's as self-indulgent and lazy film as you're ever likely to see, but it sounds like a good movie. And that's exactly what director Steven Soderbergh
has bought into. Let's not forget Soderbergh's on a roll. Out Of Sight
, Erin Brockovich
, and Traffic
in the last four years have made him the king of the intelligent mainstream American movie.
You start with the cast. There's really only one guy who has an ounce of the charisma of the movie stars of old, that you could shape a flick like this around: George Clooney
. So up steps George as Danny Ocean, so suave he gets released from prison (twice) dressed for the casino. He's been inside for four years, but he's out with a fresh plan. Take down three casinos in one night, using a boxing match as cover.
To pull a job like this, as anyone who's seen The Sting
knows, you need to bring a crew together. Up step Brad Pitt
(cards), Don Cheadle
(explosives), Matt Damon
(pickpocket), plus old-timers Elliott Gould
(money) and Carl Reiner
(traditional con). Throw in Bernie Mac
(crooked dealer), Scott Caan
and Casey Affleck
(comedy muscle), and round off with Ed Jemison
's nervous electronics wiz and Shaobo Qin
as a contortionist, and you've got yourself an outfit.
It's one of those films where the pleasure is less in being surprised by a plot, than seeing a good job well done. The crew is assembled, the joint is cased, the heist is planned, the job is done, though not without complications and a couple of twists. And that's about it. Except it's a genuine thrill to see the job done so well. Vegas looks cool. The script is both witty and bright. Everyone gets a set-piece of their own to do their thing. It's one of the least egotistical starry films you're likely to see.
There are a couple of minor lapses. Julia Roberts
pops up as Clooney's ex-wife (and current partner of bad-guy casino boss Andy Garcia), but she has little to do other than be there. Don Cheadle's cockney accent
, and misused rhyming slang
jars, even if it is Soderbergh taking the mickey out of his own The Limey
These are minor points, though, and some areas deserve special mentions that more than outweigh these lapses. David Holmes
' score is outstanding, a tribute to the 1970s percussive jazzy thriller music that the likes of Lalo Schifrin
used to add to movies. It's a good thing also to see Andy Garcia
on form, after some years in the movie wilderness. Director Soderbergh keeps everything together nicely, and even throws in some arty touches that don't slow down the pace. Also everything is kept irresistibly light. The banter is sharp, as is the tailoring. The heist goes down without violence. No one swears. These are the nicest crooks you could ever hope to be cheated by.
The movie belongs to Pitt and Clooney. If you don't like these guys, stay away, because they're on sparkling form. There's a sense of enjoyment that spills from the screen when either or both are on view, that adds to the film. This movie is as much fun to watch as it looked like to make. Don't come in search of any deeper meaning here, this is a caper, pure and simple.
Next up, Soderbergh
's returning to his indie roots in Full Frontal
, and attempting a remake of Andrei Tarkovsky
's existentialist sci-fi epic Solaris
. On his current form alone, they'll be more than worth the ticket price.
View the Ocean's Eleven trailer