Ocean’s Eleven

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Tension, peril, some violence (no one hurt)
Diversity Issues: Multi-racial characters work well together
Date Released to Theaters: 2001

Almost everyone knows the original “Oceans 11,” but almost no one remembers much about it except that Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, and Joey had some plan to knock over casinos in Las Vegas and that they had more fun making it than anyone had watching it.

This loose remake kicks it up several notches with enough genuine Hollywood star power to light all the neon signs in Nevada. George Clooney plays Sinatra’s part, Danny Ocean, this time just out of prison (in the tux he was wearing when he went in) with an idea about robbing three casinos of $150 million. The only problem is that the vault that holds all of their cash is “a security system that rivals that of most nuclear silos.” But Danny figures if he can get a good team together and a bankroll for some equipment, he can make it work.

So this is one of those movies in which we spend 40 minutes meeting the cast, 20 minutes setting up the robbery, and 40 minutes breaking into the vault, “Mission Impossible”-style. It’s done with a lot of panache and is good old-fashioned, Hollywood heist film fun.

Part of the pleasure of the film is its low-key style. The echo of the Rat Pack version is the way that everyone on screen has enough confidence to pull back a little and underplay the scenes to create a kind of intimacy. We feel that we’re listening in on real conversations, and find ourselves leaning forward as though each of us is in on the deal with them.

One problem, though, is that there are just too many goodies on screen. It’s hard for us to adjust our expectations for star turns by the high-wattage cast. There are so many stars that we don’t get to spend enough time with any of them. Matt Damon’s role is criminally under-written (just think of him as “the kid”) and we want to know more about Cheadle’s cockney demolition expert, the bickering brothers played by Scott Caan and Casey Affleck, Garcia’s casino owner, and especially about Tess (Julia Roberts), formerly married to Ocean, and now involved with Garcia’s character. Old-timers Elliott Gould and Carl Reiner are magnificent in small roles, and a couple of young TV stars drop by for a slyly hilarious cameo.

It is fitting that in a heist movie someone could steal the show, and in this movie it is Brad Pitt in a walk. I give Pitt a lot of credit for wanting to show off his considerable acting chops by staying away from glamour roles and often working against his natural appeal. His performance in “12 Monkeys” was as good as any Oscar-winner on his best night. But here he just relaxes and shows us that he can turn in a performance of effortless charm, subtle and witty, completely in service to the character and the movie and yet completely movie star mesmerizing, the most appealing he has been since his breakthrough performance in “Thelma and Louise.”

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and some violence (no one hurt). The main characters are thieves, con men, and just plain crooks, and we are expected to be on their side.

Families who see this movie should talk about why heist films are perennially popular. How do the writer and director make us root for the crooks? What is it that we enjoy so much about seeing a robbery? Is it the fantasy of instant millions? The fun of seeing how they solve the unsolvable logistical problems? Watching them respond on the spot to the unexpected? Which character did you like the most? Why?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other heist films like “Topkapi” and “The Lavender Hill Mob.”

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