RogerBW's Blog

Ocean's Thirteen 11 March 2019

2007 caper film, dir. Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, Brad Pitt; IMDb / allmovie. After one of their number is ripped off by a business partner, the gang gets together again for another casino robbery.

There's a strong sense of retrenchment here: the second film with its European settings and its art theft was apparently a bit too experimental for the audiences, so here the action moves back to plain old stealing money from a casino, just like the first one.

What it forgets to do is to have any sense of jeopardy. The basic structure is there: there are hints at the plan but not details, there are moments which look as though something has gone wrong. But somehow there is never any sense that anything might be getting away from the team; it's all just a bit too slick, too in love with showing handsome men walking around in nice suits to generate any tension.

And it is all men this time, with neither Julia Roberts not Catherine Zeta-Jones returning to their roles:

"It was a script issue. We didn't have a place to really use talent like theirs, two big stars like that," said Jerry Weintraub, the franchise's producer. "They're very good friends of ours, and neither Soderbergh nor I would prevail on them to come back and do nothing just to do it."

Sure. You've got all these cool criminals doing largely interchangeable criminal things (for example, the wheelman has absolutely no driving to do this time round and the explosives guy has nothing to blow up), but clearly if just one of them had breasts the whole edifice would collapse. Instead, the only female character of any significance is the evil boss's right-hand woman, who's mostly played for laughs: how terrible and disgusting it is that one of the crew should have to pretend to seduce her, a (shock horror) old woman. (Ellen Barkin was fifty-three in 2007.)

It doesn't help the lack of tension that the first hour and twenty minutes of this two-hour film are spent in setting things up; yes, setup can engage interest, but only for so long without things actually happening. It also doesn't help that Andy Garcia, returning here for a small role, and Al Pacino, as the main villain (whom the series does at last manage to establish as nasty rather than simply opposed to our heroes), are simply an energy band above any of the rest of the cast in terms of acting ability: they manage to project much more interesting characters, even if they're nasty, than any of the people we're meant to be cheering for.

Then there's the reach into science fiction which derails the whole thing. There's an artificially intelligent security system, apparently, which monitors the pupils, heart rate, and so on of every punter to see if they're reacting with suitable surprise when they win. So, er, why not expand it very slightly and monitor all the employees on the floor as well? Employee cheating is a real thing, after all, and it's established that this isn't the sort of organisation where they trust their staff. Answer, because the entire plot would disintegrate if the criminals weren't able to suborn the workers and get their own people inside.

The film is trying hard to recall the experimentalism of the 1970s, with its split-screens (sometimes with two showing the same thing) and its animated titles that just feel a little wrong if you've seen any of the originals, and it's packed full of moments of people being cool; but it never quite manages to string them together. Most of the actors are playing their default roles rather than characters. It's filmmaking by the numbers, and while it still manages to be a bit better than the second film it makes the first look very good by contrast.

"Followed" over a decade later by Ocean's Eight.

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