the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen

Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and the gang are back. But this time the job isn’t for love or money. It’s about getting even.

When ruthless casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) double-crosses Danny’s friend and mentor Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), he has no idea so many people will take it so personally. Danny mobilizes the team for their most ambitious and riskiest heist yet — to bring down Bank’s newest casino on its spectacular opening night, obliterating Bank’s finances as well as his impeccable reputation.

Of course Bank’s casino is nearly impregnable, protected by layer upon layer of integrated security measures all under the control of one of the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence systems. For Danny and his team to succeed, they have to execute their plan flawlessly. Interestingly, much of this planning goes on just offscreen. While the characters scour vast blueprints and consult detailed computer models, we are never allowed to see what they see. Director Steven Soderbergh is more interested in showing us what is going down, than in telling us. It’s a refreshing change in this or any movie, and in addition to complementing the audience’s intelligence, it also heightens the suspense. The execution of their intricate plans, complete with elaborate disguises and complicated ruses puts the Mission Impossible films to shame.

Unfortunately, the payoff isn’t equal to the remarkable build-up. Ocean's 13 is one long set-up for a wholly unsatisfying and impotent climax. This is, quite simply, an underwhelming film. After we’ve watched it all play out, we can’t help but cross our arms incredulously and ask, “That’s it? That’s the resolution? That wasn’t so tough!” For all its talk about impossible odds, unachievable goals and unattainable objectives, Ocean’s Thirteen is so intent on forcing us to watch for the slight of hand that it forgets to execute the trick in the first place.

We’ve seen this all before. There are few, if any, surprises. While we enjoy watching the plot progress, the rhythm and endgame are predictably predetermined. Why? Because it’s exactly the same as in the other two films. Same characters, same old shenanigans — only the geography and a few of the details have changed.

One thing that has always worked in these films is the undeniable chemistry of its stars, especially the devastatingly good-looking and infinitely charming Clooney and Pitt. When they first stroll on screen, it is as if we are seeing dear friends after a long absence. Even as the film disappoints, you never stop rooting for the characters. But with all this talent, is it wrong to have expected more?

Pacino, an undeniably titanic actor, is almost forgettable as the baddie. Those expecting a scene chewing, over-the-top performance will be disappointed by his bland, unremarkable portrayal. Ellen Barkin, as Bank’s right hand woman, fares somewhat better, especially in a hilarious scene with Matt Damon’s nose late in the film.

Unfortunately, Ocean’s Thirteen is only intermittently funny. Aside from a droll Oprah gag, the best lines come near the end when Clooney and Pitt each rib, not each other’s characters, but their actors persona and their extremely public lives.

“Maybe you should settle down. Get married. Have a couple kids,” Clooney tells Pitt.

“Next time, try keeping the weight off between jobs,” Pitt retorts.

It is a witty, self-referential wink in a film obsessed with looking and sounding like half a dozen films that have gone before it.

Ocean’s Thirteen is always watchable — a fun, colorful, snappy film that wears its snazzy exterior so well you might be distracted from the fact that it’s actually hollow underneath. While crossing this Ocean won’t exactly leave you sea sick, it won’t get you any closer to where you want to be either.

To read this story in its original form, click here.


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