Ocean’s Eleven (2001) — A wildly cool heist caper

“Are you in or out?”

Justin’s rating: I wish I had two heads so I could have watched it twice for the first time

Justin’s review: I finally got to see this movie in Japan while visiting my friend Lance. Sure, we toured around and saw temples and monks and those incredibly zany Japanese TV commercials (I think their cardinal rule is “Anything Can Be Made Into A Cute Cartoon Transforming Robot Poké-Alien Mascot”), but that’s all secondary when it comes to movies.

Let me briefly fill you in on what a movie experience is like at a theater there. First of all, you buy tickets for specific seats. Which meant that in a theater room with a capacity of around 275, Lance, me, and the other ten people were all sitting in the same little square area. Second, you don’t have that deep booming movie guy doing voice-overs for the trailers. Our film was in English with Japanese subtitles.

The main difference of seeing a movie in a Japanese theater is the humor aspect. Japanese people don’t tend to laugh out loud. Most of it is restrained giggling behind schoolgirl hands (you have to rent a pair if you’re not a schoolgirl). Lance and I, while generally respectful of other nations and cultures, are just not the types to hold back our loud, offensive, booming American laughter. And Ocean’s Eleven was a funny movie, which meant we were laughing A LOT, and we were also the only people in the theater who were doing so. So that just made us laugh more. A deadly chain reaction of cosmic proportions, you see.

I’d heard Ocean’s Eleven be referred to as an excellent “popcorn flick,” and so I spent time after I saw it thinking of what, exactly, constituted a popcorn flick. Maybe it’s just a movie you can see and turn your brain off for two hours and enjoy the cleavage and explosions, but I don’t think so.

As a writer, I have to acknowledge that there are multiple styles and techniques when it comes to storytelling. There’s a style — I’ll call it Tom Clanceynitis — that prefers to deluge the reader with setting descriptions and every last piece of information vital or even passingly connected to the story. This way, you end up with 22 pages of a description of a submarine hallway, and about one line of action. Then there’s a style of writing — I’ll call it John Grishamosity — that takes on faith that the readers will fill in all the minor details of the story on their own, and so they write a fast-paced, minimalistic plot that trades off depth for page-turn-worthiness. New writers tend to fall into one of these two styles, and they can both be done very poorly, very easily.

A popcorn flick like Ocean’s Eleven takes the second of these approaches, and makes its number one priority to tell a good story. Sure, you get character intros that maybe top 10 seconds apiece, and a large ensemble that literally crowd together for screen time, but that’s just fine. It’s fast-moving, and it tells a fun and captivating story. We all like good heist flicks — well, at least I do — since part of the fun is the impossibility of the scenario (in this case, knocking over three Las Vegas casinos), and part of the fun is seeing how they do it.

There are many points where Ocean’s Eleven could have stumbled, the big one being the presence of Clooney and Pitt, who have as many strikes as successes when it comes to headlining cool (Batman and Robin anyone?). But it’s to the film’s extreme credit that it doesn’t fall for any typical plot holes (cons turning against each other, dumb villains, blah blah), and places such a heavy emphasis on humor and charm. It’s a slick film, very easy on the eyes and mind, and there’s just enough of a twist to it that makes you feel somewhat cerebral after it’s over.

It’s hard to go wrong with this movie. It really appeals to a broad cross-section of people, including my mother, who just has this weird George Clooney thing. I don’t get it, and I don’t want to. But the next time you’re throwing a party and wringing your hands over whether your guests will be sophisticated enough to enjoy Dude, Where’s My Car?, save yourself a bit of headache and just rent this flick.

Kyle’s rating: Just like my trips to Vegas!

Kyle’s review: Las Vegas is a magical place that exists outside of time and space and reality as we know it. Throw the mob and hundreds of millions of dollars and tourists and insane theme hotels and the eternal battle between desert heat and casino air conditioning, and you’d still just have some crappy vacation spot where you can gamble. But add a generous dash of magic and the potential to not only win, but to win HUGE, and you have the great, wonderful, mysterious, irreplaceable, irresistible Las Vegas. The Vegas strip is very choice. If you get a chance, I suggest you consider it as your next vacation spot. I’ll meet you there!

Ocean’s Eleven is a remake of a Rat Pack feature, but I don’t care. I’ve never seen the old one. The new one is sleek and cool and while it’s short on story, it’s long on style. Eleven guys knocking over three casinos with their wits and the best equipment money can buy + star casting = entertainment! George Clooney and Brad Pitt lead the way as they and their crew prove themselves to be the coolest of the cool and therefore deserving of $150 million. Works for me! Seeing this film won’t change anything but the time on your watch, but it’s easy fun. Just go for it!

Speaking of Vegas, if you go there as much as I do (it’s just a few hours away!), you’re bound to encounter those downtimes when all the families are asleep and it’s just the die-hards and the insomniacs and the dead-tired walking around with you. It’s then you realize that as strangely quiet it is for one of the noisiest places on Earth, there is still more to do at 3 in the morning than anywhere else. Plus you can win $300 million with a $1 bill! My point is: if anyone wants to knock over a casino, I can’t legally recommend it. But I can mention my email address is posted on the front page. Write me anytime, and, uh, let me know how your “grandma” (as in, your plan for knocking over a casino or two) is doing. Cool!

Andie’s rating: I was going to write a smutty joke about George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon breaking into my vault, but I won’t.

Andie’s review: I went to the theaters to see Ocean’s Eleven because frankly, I was hyped beyond belief to see it. I love ensemble cast movies, they’re so much more fun than movies with one or two main characters. I thought the cast couldn’t have been packed with more stars who are funny and cool and entertaining. I also like Steven Soderbergh’s work a lot, so I figured I was going to love Ocean’s Eleven. Well, this reviewer was not disappointed. When it comes to sheer enjoyment, excitement, and happiness, this movie hit the button better than any I’ve seen in awhile.

When I left the theater my only complaint was that it wasn’t as funny as I had hoped it would be, but upon a second and third rental viewings, I realized that it really IS laugh-out-loud funny, just in a more of a subtle way than I was expecting. Which is nice. It makes me feel smart because it doesn’t go for cheap slapsticky jokes.

For example, when Danny Ocean first meets up with Rusty and they leave the bar, the “movie stars” like Holly Marie Combs and Topher from That ’70s Show and Joshua Jackson all get mobbed for autographs while George Clooney and Brad Pitt, arguably two of the finest men in Hollywood, waltz on by without a glance. It’s a little thing, but it struck me as immensely funny.

Another of the comedic highlights for me is Eliot Gould as Rubin. First of all, I love seeing Ross’ dad in silky boxers, no shirt, fancy-schmancy robe with lots of gold chains around his neck. Secondly, I really enjoyed his run-down of the three most successful robberies in Vegas. They show one from the ’50s and play “Papa Loves Mambo.” They show one from the ’70s and play “Spirit in the Sky.” And they show one from the ’80s and play “Take My Breath Away.” Really excellent comedic moment.

There are a lot of good visuals in this movie as well, such as the transitions. As the elevator doors close, they usher in the next scene from both sides of the screen. The split screens and cross fades are excellent, they really add to the fun feel of the movie. Some other little visuals I really liked include when we see the old hotel being blown up over Basher’s shoulder right out the window and then it is revealed he is watching the demolition on TV. Or when Terry Benedict is announcing the demolition and everyone in the crowd turns at once to watch the building blow up except for Danny and Linus. They’re heads stay perfectly trained on Terry and Tess. It’s a terrific homage to the Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train tennis match scene and a great visual effect.

Another thing that was nice about Ocean’s Eleven was that I didn’t have to think too hard while I was watching. I could just sit back, relax and enjoy it. However, I also couldn’t turn my brain off completely or I would’ve missed something. It was the perfect balance between concentrating-so-hard-you-miss-the- enjoyment movies and not-paying-attention-enough-so-you-miss-something movies.

And finally I really thought the cast was stellar in this movie. George Clooney is perfectly smooth as fast-talking thief Danny Ocean. Brad Pitt could not look any hotter as his partner in crime Rusty. Andy Garcia makes a deliciously greasy villain. Matt Damon cracks me up as an unsure pick-pocket college kid named, of all things, Linus. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought Don Cheadle as Basher really was British. Scott Caan and Casey Affleck are hilarious as the Mormon Twins. And of course Bernie Mac as Frank the Insider is great. The scene between him and Matt Damon where Frank accuses Linus of being racist is perfect. “Might as well call it White Jack!”

So anyway, what I’m trying to say is that this movie is great. It’s a wild romp, it’s really fun and I’ve seen it three times and am still not tired of it. It is put together really well and takes you on a fun, slick two-hour roller coaster full of fun and interesting people. I highly recommend it.

PoolMan’s rating: My greatest regret in life: not having bought fuzzy dice when I went to Vegas.

PoolMan’s review: This movie oozes cool.

If there’s one exact phrase or sentiment that the three finely accomplished Mutants before me didn’t use in describing Ocean’s Eleven that I wish they had, that would be it. On the off chance that you’ll donate just a little more time to read a humble Canadian’s opinion (we try 63% harder to offset the dollar, you know), well that’s just ducky.

I really, really like heist flicks. There is something just so wonderfully fun and freeing about rooting for the wrong guys every now and again, it’s great. I mean, look at this story in the black and white facts. A group of accomplished criminals want to steal over $160 million (US dollars, mind you!) while their leader plots to steal the only female character in sight. Normally, this is the setup for James Bond to come rolling into town and start busting heads. But not so! Instead, we get to pull for the antiheroes, something that’s just so tough to do right, but done to excellence here. I especially love the lasting aftereffects these kinds of movies have on me. I sneak between cars on my walk home. I stick to the shadows. I desperately wish that someone will come up to me and serve up a perfect straight line to bounce some witty banter off of. I pretend I’m a far better dresser than I really am.

It’s all a little unbalanced, though. Out of eleven criminals, I’d challenge you to name all of them. They’re worse than the friggin’ seven dwarves. Some of the guys (I’m thinking Scott Caan and Casey Affleck) basically melt into the background, especially if you don’t really know they’re faces (like me). They never really do anything that you or I couldn’t. On the other hand, Clooney gets the (only) girl, and Pitt gets about 95% of the punchlines. Honestly, just about every funny line in the movie came from Rusty’s script. For the average Fight Club fan, however, this won’t present much of a problem.

This flick is styling. It is hot. It’s downright sexy (without any sex, how about that?). It is all those icky words marketing people tend to use when describing any George Clooney/Brad Pitt/Julia Roberts movie, only this time they’re right. I’d actually been avoiding seeing this for general lack of interest, and man, I’m kicking myself. I spent my entire time either laughing my ass off, grooving my whole body to the fantastic soundtrack, or reminiscing about Las Vegas as it’s always presented in the movies. I haven’t had this much fun in ages with a movie.

If you don’t like Clooney, suck it up. If action’s not your thing, turn off your brain for a minute or two. If laughing’s not your ticket, try Ebert instead of this website. But no matter what, rent this flick NOW. It’s worth it in ways that I can’t explain with green text on a black background.

And you’d be surprised what you can accomplish with that these days.

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