RogerBW's Blog

Ocean's Twelve 06 March 2019

2004 caper film, dir. Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, Brad Pitt; IMDb / allmovie. The crooks' victim from the first film wants his money back, and he's a Scary Guy. How to get it for him? Steal it, of course.

The entire plot therefore rests on Mr Benedict (Andrew Garcia) being a force of nature so unstoppable that there's no possible way to put him off from his revenge except to pay him, and it might have been a good idea to spend some time establishing that. Instead, the opening act frankly drags, with a bare minimum of menace, and time wasted on a job that's clearly too small to make any dent in the amount of funds needed – it's necessary for the plot to work, but the characters aren't supposed to know that.

Another distraction is an attempt to borrow ideas from The Thomas Crown Affair and Entrapment, as Pitt's character flirts with a Europol investigator (Catherine Zeta-Jones, not doing as good a job as Rene Russo) who's out to catch him. It's a complication that eats time but doesn't add tension.

The nominal twelfth is Tess (Julia Roberts), hauled in as an emergency stand-in when everything goes wrong (Or Does It?), most of whose contribution is to play Julia Roberts because the plan needs a celebrity. This is not helped by a cameo from Bruce Willis, also playing himself; I think this may be the joint low point of their careers. Maybe Roberts had a larger part that was cut down when she got pregnant. Vincent Cassel, as the hidden opposition, does a game job with a poor script, in the sort of role that these days would be given automatically to Benedict Cumberbatch.

The world expands: the first film took place essentially in Las Vegas, while this one happens in Amsterdam and Rome. It's admitted that there are actually other cool criminals, with cool criminal terms for obscure things that won't be explained, rather than these people being the only thieves in the world. That sense of reality is only slightly dented by an incident of magical "holography" that punts the story into fantasyland.

But the real problem is… well, I expect some trickery from a heist film. A big part of the genre is about confounding the audience's expectations. But when the last-minute solution is "oh, really I did it ten days ago and didn't tell you", meaning that most of the previous hour was nothing but misdirection, well, I get annoyed. The film works, nearly any film intended for entertainment works, by asking the audience to become complicit in its fiction, to agree that while we know it's just a story we will treat its characters as people and its events as if they were real, and we'll allow ourselves to assign some emotional weight for them. To accept that bargain, then to turn round and say "ha ha, aren't you silly for caring about this obvious fiction" is a trick it's hard to forgive.

Cinematography is still by Peter Andrews, but he's learned a new gimmick, a zoom in that ends with a palpable thud as the lens hits its end stop; it's distracting, and when overused (especially multiple times in succession) rapidly becomes annoying.

This film makes the first one look rather better. Sure, it was just meant to be disposable entertainment, but it was disposable entertainment done reasonably well, which this… isn't. It's not completely unwatchable, but I found it much less enjoyable than the first. Followed by Ocean's Thirteen.

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