PG-13, but boy-oh-boy, were we pushing it in 2001? There's some pretty intense language throughout the movie. It's not like it's a full on R at any point, but I'd consider this one on the fence. Also, considering that it is Vegas, Ocean's Eleven dances around (pun intended) strippers in the area. There's a lot of close calls on nudity, despite not actually having nudity on screen. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh
How does this movie hold up? I don't know if I can actually enjoy Men in Black anymore. High school was all about Men in Black and Ocean's Eleven. But at this point, I didn't think any of those movies from high school really held up. The thing that may have helped Ocean's Eleven is that I hadn't visited it since my college days. Heck, I thought that I still owned this movie. Apparently I didn't, so now I have a digital copy of it. But Ocean's Eleven still stands as the triumphant film of the four films.
Before I go on, I still have to preach about how much I enjoyed Ocean's 8. I'm probably going to slag off the others, but please remove Ocean's 8 from that list unless stated otherwise. I forgot how much fun this movie was. The thing is, I remembered how they pulled of the heist. I didn't remember much of the movie leading into the story, but I do remember the actual result. I am so tempted to spoil that, but I realize there are a lot of people who haven't seen Ocean's Eleven, primarily any of my students who aren't in my film club. But this is a movie that works for one reason while the others really don't. (Again, look at the numbers. Ocean's 8 follows this rule.) Ocean's Eleven needs eleven guys. (I don't know why it has to be completely male. I blame that on 2001.) I know it is a remake of the Sinatra film, but every person is used extremely well in this film. The plan actually calls for eleven people. Not everyone gets the same spotlight and that kind of sucks. It really is about the big three: Clooney, Pitt, and Damon. But everyone who is in on this plan contributes to this plan in a meaningful way and that's what makes the story work. I kind of feel like the planning of this movie is what builds to its genius. Rather than finding things for characters to do, the screenwriters honestly tried planning the best heist humanly possible. I wouldn't be surprised if this movie didn't even start as a remake to the original Ocean's 11 because it definitely feels like this was just a good heist movie. I tend to compare a lot of heist movies to this film because Ocean's Eleven delivers on a promise that a lot of heist movies really don't. From start to finish, the movie keeps the viewer both involved and in-the-dark for how this is all going to come across. A good con movie has the audience think that they are in on the plan. They don't outright lie to them, but they misdirect. One thing is actually another thing. Matt Damon's Linus Caldwell is the perfect character for this piece because Linus is the closest thing to an avatar for the audience. He knows a lot. He feels like he is entitled to privileged information, but he's having something hidden from him as well. As Linus gets flustered, we too get flustered. We question behavior and build distrust. But then Linus is let in on the plan and all is forgiven. It's a really great bait-and-switch there. What's interesting with Linus is that most avatars don't play active character roles. They are there to report and establish a proper response for these actions. But consider that I am the Linus in this situation, I kind of hate Linus. I hope that doesn't really reflect one me, but I tend to hate myself a lot of the time anyway. When Linus goes off plan, I tend to yell at him in my mind. (I had a room full of students. I had to be a pro.)
What Soderbergh gets really right in this movie is the idea that this is more than a heist for old pros like the characters involved. Yeah, it's not personal for a lot of them. Basher is there as a hire, as are a lot of the characters in the story. But tying Danny and Tess's relationship as the lynch pin of this film is actually fascinating. The movie deceives me at one point in the film and makes a false promise. This entire blog is about how I'm a hypocrite sometimes. I hate false promises in movies. If a movie establishes the stakes very clearly, undoing that usually makes me furious. At one point, the stakes laid out by Danny are the money for Tess. It's a romantic and vulnerable move in the midst of a rather broey movie. I think I want to break down why this false promise works when other false promises are outright lies. I might use the Harry Potter franchise as my example for when a false promise is a lie. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (It's a film blog, guys), Harry breaks one of the rules of wizarding laws. There's a spell that is so evil that it is a violation of what is considered good and just. However, he uses the curse and nothing really happens. Harry never really faces any consequences and the story just progresses, justifying his actions as a whole. He still is allowed to keep the hero status while the film continues onwards. However, Danny's gambit for Tess is more of a mislead. Danny sacrifices something else to get the answer he wanted. That, by itself, may seem like a cop-out, but I want to put that in a different light. By offering Benedict a reset, he's not just putting his own reputation on the line. By default, he's gambling with someone else's stake. If he gave Benedict what he wanted, the other ten members would be out of luck. He made an offer that he couldn't possibly pay out. Yeah, this seems like a minor change. But what the result of the situation is that the protagonist actually has a justifiable reason to have his cake and eat it too. Danny uses his skills with the intention of having his cake and eating it too. In this moment, we find out that the entire heist isn't about revenge, at least not directly. Rather, this entire thing was a gamble for this moment. He was fighting for Tess. The alternative, actually, is more interesting. Let's flip the script and have Benedict be a good guy. Imagine if Benedict chooses Tess in that moment. Danny actually gambles what little hope he has with Tess for this one bet. If Benedict chose Tess, Danny becomes the villain of the story. It means that Benedict was actually the hero and becomes sympathetic throughout. Yeah, Danny gets the money. But he is fundamentally finished. The only way that he could even open doors with Tess again is to give back the money. The bet is actually still in tact and that's a really rad move throughout.
I'm trying to think of movies that have actually used an ensemble as well as this film did. I can only think of the original The Magnificent Seven and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. There's something absolutely spectacular about a really good ensemble film that makes it feel like it is something special. I know that I've never really been into sports, nor will I ever get into sports, but I have to imagine this is what a good All Star team is like. Every part in this is phenomenally cast and I absolutely enjoy the dynamics between the varying personalities throughout. This is and probably always will be a fun movie. There's stuff to analyze, sure, but the deeper I go, the more I want to turn back to the fact that I can just watch this as pure entertainment. But what makes it so fun? It has a really snappy script and I forgot how good that entire element was to the story. The movie is playful, but cool. I think I can probably chalk this up to the absolutely rad soundtrack, which I'm actually having a hard time finding on YouTube. (It's how I get in the mindset of the film while I'm writing. What, it's the writer's process!) But there's something charming about the main characters. I don't know what Pitt and Clooney necessarily have that works so well, but it really does. Is it Pitt's decision to eat in every scene? I know that this isn't isolated to the Ocean's movies, but he's going above and beyond. I don't know why I'm such a fan of Clooney. It's probably the same thing that everyone else likes about the guy. But Clooney doesn't exactly give a wide range on this film. But that's exactly what I want. Look at Danny's highs and lows in this film. Clooney isn't giving Danny anything except for confidence, which is appropriate for a confidence man. How is that compelling to us? As a character, Danny is kind of the Willy Wonka of the casino theft world. We never really know what emotional stakes we're dealing with when it comes to Danny, but we know those stakes exist. I'm going to pat myself on the back for that Willy Wonka comparison because Wonka, at one point, loses his mind. Danny is madly in love with Tess. He's doing all of this to get Tess back. He imprisons himself to get Tess back. He risks his freedom to do that. There is an emotional core to his choices. But he never really lets us see that. Rather, Pitt needs to verbalize that he's emotionally attached to the whole thing. It's an interesting choice and I really like that element of the character. But maybe that's also what makes it so tiring for the future films. Danny is never really allowed to grow. In one film, that cavalier attitude is perfect. But in future film, that confidence becomes a bit of a trait of a Mary Sue. Danny Ocean can't lose in future films. In this one, you really think that he loses at a few points in the story. It's great. It's that pain that is instantly undone. But confidence is hard to fall in love with. It is seductive, but it can't form a lasting relationship. Maybe I don't want a sequel to Ocean's 8 for that very reason. Yeah, there's all the Danny teasing stuff that's happening, but I like those characters as they are. I don't need to see it happen again.
I guess I realized that I'm very love-it-or-hate-it when it comes to heist and con man movies. The plan has to be perfect for me to really get on board. There need to be rules and the movie needs to know which rules to break. A lot of these movies, like the sequels to this film and also Matchstick Men (I loathed that film and I decided to shoehorn that into this review) telegraph their problems and don't really stick the landing. These movies ask us to invest in solving the problem and we love the fact that we don't quite get it on the first run. Ocean's Eleven is a smart film. It might be the best heist movie I've seen. It's got great dialogue. The star power is actually magnetic. It's funny and engaging. What else could I be asking for from a heist film?
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.