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On Dec. 7, 2001, Warner Bros. unleashed the George Clooney-Brad Pitt version of Ocean’s Eleven, which would kick-start a franchise of star-studded heist films. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
A heist movie with a serious demeanor but comic underpinnings, Ocean’s Eleven performs its grand larceny through a collection of star turns by the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Andy Garcia. It’s a movie that demands not to be taken too seriously. But at times it feels so weightless that the intrigue comes more in seeing how the writer and director will wiggle out of plot predicaments than how a team of thieves will rip off Las Vegas casinos.
For Steven Soderbergh, coming off last year’s historic double whammy in which he became the only director to have two films nominated for best picture and best director, Ocean’s Eleven represents a mostly successful stylistic shift into sheer artifice, where the force of the personalities involved compels your interest. Each star gets his moment to shine, so fans will suffer no disappointment. If kids have Harry Potter this holiday season, then adults have Ocean’s Eleven. The film could be a major hit both in North America and overseas.
The movie, of course, has an antecedent in the 1960 Ocean’s Eleven, in which Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies rob five Vegas casinos. (This has been reduced to three in the new movie, and really only one vault.) That earlier film was mostly an exercise in celebrity cool; here Soderbergh makes his actors earn their money by actually playing characters.
Everyone is a career criminal in Ted Griffin’s intricate, richly detailed script, so not one moment is wasted on worry over a dishonest day’s work. Clooney’s Danny Ocean sets the wheel in motion the moment he leaves prison. His goal is to rob an underground vault that services the Bellagio, Mirage and MGM Grand casinos.
Every team member he and his right-hand man, Pitt’s Rusty Ryan, recruits is a genius at some criminal activity. Linus (Damon) is a nimble pickpocket. Basher (Cheadle, with a marvelous Cockney accent) can blow up anything. Livingston (Eddie Jemison) is a brilliant though tightly wound surveillance guy. Frank (Bernie Mac) can deal cards and still watch everything that takes place on the casino floor. Saul (Carl Reiner) knows every con game that exists. The Malloy brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) are whizzes at auto mechanics. Yen is an amazing Chinese acrobat (played by Shaobo Qin, who is exactly that). Finally, ex-casino owner Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) is rich enough to fund the operation, so you never have to wonder, “How did they get that thing?”
Then, to give the cold mechanics of the heist some hot blood, Danny has an ulterior motive in robbing these particular casinos: All are owned by Terry Benedict (Garcia), a polished though deadly entrepreneur currently sleeping with Danny’s ex-wife, Tess (Roberts).
This is not your typical crime movie. These are all gentleman thieves; they never raise their voices. There are never any quarrels or unpleasantness. They don’t even seem to be doing this for the money.
Some might find the clockwork precision of their criminal craftsmanship hard to swallow, but the movie operates solely in the arena of fantasy wish fulfillment. This is a movie for anyone who has lost a wad in Vegas, lost a mate to a really smooth rich guy or gal or simply lost his keys through lack of organization.
Ocean’s Eleven is no Rififi, which virtually served as a documentary in how to break into a jewelry store. Rather, the movie is an exercise in Hollywood glamour, enlivened by the feeling one often gets from a Soderbergh film: that the actors are having a ball.
The film is a technical marvel, with Philip Messina’s sets and real casino locations binding seamlessly together. Soderbergh’s elegant camerawork takes you “backstage” at the Bellagio to tour rooms, corridors, elevator shafts and passages. And David Holmes’ cool, jazzy score makes this Ocean’s Eleven feel hipper than Sinatra’s. — Kirk Honeycutt, originally published on Dec. 3, 2001.
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