Oceans Thirteen Directed by Steven Soderbergh
After last years B&W film noir pastiche, The Good Germanone of the most excruciating movies ever madeSteven Soderbergh owed the world an entertainment. So what does he do? Rehashes his least imaginative hit with Oceans Thirteen.
In this latest all-star caper movie (and the third remake of his career, counting the execrable Solaris and Traffic), Soderbergh confirms his allegiance to the corrupt Hollywood system. No longer just an indie darling as he was praised with his 1989 debut sex, lies and videotape, Soderbergh has followed the typical path of penitent revolutionaries.
Oceans Thirteen certifies his yuppie transition from unpredictable upstart to hipster. This isnt exactly a shock: sex, lies and videotape was bourgie enough to have been a low-budget caprice by Sydney Pollack. Like Pollack, Soderbergh here features big-name movie stars to push an elaborate but tired plot. Oceans Thirteens heist story uses stardom for a conventional Hollywood swindlejust another product peddling sleek mischief.
George Clooneys back as cool dude Danny Ocean and Brad Pitt returns as trusty Rusty Ryan; they plot revenge against a venture capitalist shark named Bank (played by Al Pacino). Bank has cheated Oceans aged buddy Reuben (Elliott Gould) out of a Vegas casino deal. Ocean calls his crooked friends together to ripoff Banks massively secured gambling den and steal his prized jewel collection. Oceans gang increases its number when the victim of their first heist, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), cant resist the thieving party.
An errant hint of morality occurs in this crime spree when Oceans gang discusses the hiring practices of Banks assistant, an aging sexpot named Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin), who coldly dismisses waitresses less taut and tanned than herself. Sponder dodges labor laws by re-naming the position models who serve. Its a curious designation since Soderbergh treats his cast of tabloid stars as Models Who Serve. Their purpose is to glamorize Vegas luxe and greed.
Pacinos the most forceful actor present, a powerhouse among lightweights, yet even he is diminished, portraying a bumptious Mr. Big. Soderbergh confuses Pacinos energy and talent with mere charisma; he assumes that the sexual appeal of smirky Ocean and his incessantly pranks-playing gang is irresistible. Its perfect irony to watch this cast of famous, crusading liberals try to make underhandedness and dishonesty charming.
Soderbergs trickery recalls the miscalculation that scuttled The Good German. Attempting to redefine Hollywoods post-war romance genre, Soderbergh couldnt see that Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Toby Maguire were playing hideously unsympathetic characters; he replaced the once clearly understood morality of WWII dramas with contemporary political cynicism and personal sentimentality. Now, Oceans Thirteen celebrates the treachery of thieves who consider themselves rebels.
In terms of genre, Soderbergh activates the same dumbness reflex that worked for that lousy 1973 Oscar winner The Sting. Its supposed to be fun seeing robbers outwit each otherand Soderbergh hides the basic immorality with too-cute subplots: Scott Caan and Casey Affleck get involved in a south-of-the-border labor strike, Don Cheadle invokes Chuck Berry in a scene about an indie entertainer demanding to be paid, Matt Damon seduces Barkin. Meanwhile, Clooney and Pitt strut around Vegas, pausing briefly to cry at a schmaltzy Oprah Winfrey charity broadcast. These stunts distract from the heists small-minded, self-serving mission.
Danny Oceans mean little motivation sours the theory of vicarious pleasure. Soderbergh treats the moviegoing public like media shills who care deeply about Pitt-Clooneys celebrity club. And, sure enough, some in the audience chuckled throughout, content to bask in all that egotism and wall-to-wall grinning. (Clooneys Ocean boasts that the criminal underworld simply likes him better than Bank.) Theres no suspense; its like a Guy Ritchie movie with ADHD.
Soderbergh fills out the running time with lazy, smug banter and split-screen montages of extraneous stuffeven Sumo wrestling! The weak narrative structure is camouflaged with lounge music, splashy title cards and dollar-sign f/x floating over the heads of casino winners. The crass artifice recalls Richard Shepards The Matador but there the exaggerated fun led to an expose of moral vacancy. Soderberghs idea of fun includes doing his own photography (under the name Peter Andrews), continuing Traffics insipid color fields, here made video-fuzzy. What Soderbergh thinks is style looks like a travelogue advertising Hell.