2007Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: George Clooney, Al Pacino, Brad Pitt
have seen Ocean’s 11 and Ocean’s 12 a combined total of far too many times. I own a copy of each, and watch them whenever I’m sick, or bored, or don’t have anything better to do, and often when I do have something better to do. I say this in the interest of full disclosure, so you’ll know you’re dealing with a Fan (and I feel I should also state for the record that I’m one of the few who liked the second one even better than the first). I also mention it so you’ll have some background for when I tell you I can’t even remember, say, Matt Damon’s character’s name without looking it up (it’s Linus, which is hilarious). I love these characters to death, and yet when someone in Ocean’s 13 calls Brad Pitt “Rusty,” I thought, “Oh yeah, that’s his name.”
My point is that with a movie like Ocean’s 13, I’m not even slightly embarrassed to tell you that I pretty much had absolutely no idea what was going on at any point. There’s so much happening, all the time, that it took me half the movie to even figure out why they were doing any of what they were doing. And it doesn’t matter. The point of the Ocean’s movies is not to tell a story, but rather to have a big giant herd of charismatic, witty people being charismatic and witty all over the screen. Actually, no, strike that. The whole point of the movies is to build lusciously beautiful, flashy and pointless sets, and film them with lusciously beautiful, flashy and pointless cinematography. Or maybe the point is just to have fun with titles and typography, because there’s an awful of a lot of that, too (and that’s kind of my favorite bit). All of this, of course, boils down to the simple fact that Steven Soderbergh makes these movies for the hell of it, because he can, and we, on our end, watch them for exactly the same reasons. The plot is just one big MacGuffin, made up of a whole bunch of other, smaller MacGuffins, feeding on one another, mating, and hatching new ones.
So how does this movie compare to the previous two? Ocean’s 11 was a lot of fun, Ocean’s 12 was, to me, a lot more fun, and Ocean’s 13 is…well, fun, I guess.
I think Soderbergh’s fallen into the trap of trying to add ever more characters and complications. One of the breathtaking things about 12 was that he took the already convoluted set of characters and motivations, added a heaping helping of new ones, and made them stick. So naturally he tries again for 13, only this time he kind of fails. Sure, Al Pacino has a great character in (uh, hang on, let me look it up…) Willie Bank, but any time he’s on screen it makes me think about how Julia Roberts’ Tess is conspicuously missing, with her entertaining outfits and nice hairdos and charming grumpiness. Ellen Barkin is really very funny as Bank’s high-powered assistant, but she can’t distract me from the reduced screen time for George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s ingenious improvised dialogues, masterpieces of timing and the unspoken. Bernie Mac and Shaobo Qin are also conspicuously short-shrifted, and it bears repeating that Julia Roberts is not in this movie. At all. Tess is one of Roberts’ greatest characters (in a career with many highlights, no matter what you might think), and her absence is painful. Hell, she’s the one whose name I know without consulting a cast list.
(I could also point out that, where Ocean’s 12 at least had two witty and smart women, Ocean’s 13 replaces them with one foolish woman who exists to have an incorrect notion of her own attractiveness and to be manipulated through sex, and one woman whose only personality trait is “ambition.” I could point that out, but I won’t.)
The whole thing feels like a long-running, beloved television show (The Cosby Show, say, or The X-Files) that, as its popularity wanes in its final years, suddenly explodes with new characters, to the detriment of the old ones, and you’re left saying, “Well, I was already shaky on whether or not I was going to keep watching this, and now I have to keep track of all these new people I don’t care about? And what the heck happened to the people I used to love so much?”
The problem really is that I don’t see any reason why I would ever want to watch this movie instead of one of the other two. If I had DVDs of all three movies in front of me, I can’t imagine any circumstance where I would pick this one. All that said, though, it’s not like Ocean’s 13 is a failure. The story is gratifyingly complex and unfathomable. The actors are their charming selves, if in smaller doses, and Soderbergh’s direction and (pseudonymous) cinematography are as nutty and beautiful as they’ve ever been.
At its core, film is a medium of images first, sound second, and anything else last. I might complain grumpily about how Ocean’s 13 isn’t as good as I wanted it to be, but by God it knows what movies are for, and what makes them fun. I’d rather watch Ocean’s 13 over and over again than even just one silly blockbuster that is content to put images on the screen only so that you can see what’s happening, and sound over the speakers only so that you can hear what’s happening. Soderbergh shows us things because they’re good to look at, gives us speech and music because they’re good to listen to, and lets “what’s happening” fend for itself. If you ask me, that’s infinitely preferable.
Ocean’s 13 is currently playing in wide release.
By: Ethan Robinson
Published on: 2007-06-12