Ocean’s Eleven DVD

The remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” proves that Hollywood can still make them like they used to, as long as stars and filmmakers are willing to put aside their egos and hefty paychecks. As light and buoyant as an anorexic skydiver, “Ocean’s Eleven” is both smart and funny, a rare combination these days.


“Ocean’s Eleven” is a wonderfully engaging caper film, that unlike the recent rash of heist films (Ronin, The Score, Heist), never takes itself too seriously. The emphasis is on having a good time, and that’s exactly what director Steven Soderbergh, working from a snappy script by Ted Griffin, provides.

As a respected actor’s director (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Out of Sight), Soderbergh was able to recruit a star-studded roster of talent, including an affable George Clooney as the mastermind of a $150 million robbery of three Las Vegas casinos. Clooney is absolutely perfect and quite charming as Danny Ocean, an ex-con fresh out of prison, anxious to pick up where he left off.

Ocean plans to rob the central underground vault of three Las Vegas casinos owned by ruthless businessman Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who just happens to be dating Ocean’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts), who serves as the curator for the Bellagio art gallery.

After convincing friend and partner Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) that the job is about the money and not the girl, the two begin rustling up a team of specialists needed to pull off the robbery. They find their seed money in former casino owner Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould, a standout), who despises Benedict for running him out of business.

Ocean and Ryan use their individual connections to flesh out the team, including former flimflam man Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), who has retired to Florida; Cockney explosives expert Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle); second-generation pick-pocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon); inside man and card expert Frank Catton (Bernie Mac); surveillance expert Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison); grease man Yen (Shaobo Qin); and drivers-utility men, brothers Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk (Scott Caan, channeling his father from “Freebie and the Bean”).

With “Ocean’s Eleven” in place, the con begins, and what a grand con it is. What I love about caper films as opposed to heist films is that we’re not always privy to the bottom line. Heist films are much more meticulous in their plot detail. In caper films, things just happen and we accept them (when Basher needs a nuclear accelerator to disrupt the power in Las Vegas, they have no problem acquiring one).

With heist films, the audience becomes part of the team, which creates suspense but very little surprise. With caper films, we’re only allowed to see bits and pieces of the puzzle, thus becoming observers rather than participants.

Soderbergh and Griffin have taken great liberties with the original premise, and the results far exceeded my expectations. I was just hoping for a good time, yet I was constantly surprised by how sharp and funny the film really was. Far from just being just a two-hour photo op, “Ocean’s Eleven” features finely tuned characters and equally rewarding performances. As a writer, Griffin gives the characters much more depth than the plot requires.

The characters are just as complex as the robbery, and under Soderbergh’s direction, there isn’t one bad performance in the film. Soderbergh has so perfectly cast the film that every time we meet one of the characters, we feel as if we’ve known them forever. That shorthand allows him to immediately jump into the caper.

How refreshing to see veterans Elliott Gould and Carl Reiner not only co-star with members of Hollywood’s $20 million club, but more than hold their own. Gould is marvelous as the flamboyant former casino owner whose hidden resentment fuels the con, while Reiner’s dramatic turn as the mysterious businessman who gains Benedict’s favor, really floored me.

Casey Affleck (Ben’s younger brother) and Scott Caan had me in stitches as the two raffish but brainy brothers who constantly resort to childish behavior, but always rise to the occasion when needed.

Roberts is luminescent as Tess, who believes she has found security but not real love in the arms of Benedict. We know the moment Ocean and Tess exchange glances her heart belongs to him. You can’t blame her. Benedict may be rich and powerful, but he’s not really much fun. Garcia makes that perfectly clear with a performance that convinces us Benedict is all about the money.

The rest of the cast is a comfortable fit, including the city of Las Vegas, which Soderbergh and Griffin have appropriated for the film. “Ocean’s Eleven” isn’t set in some fictional version of Las Vegas. The filmmakers create a twisted sense of cinema verite by using real casinos and hotels, even though the owner’s real names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Behind the camera, Soderbergh, who serves as his own director of photography, bathes this fake reality in pleasing ambers that make everyone and everything look rich and spellbinding. Editor Stephen Mirrione incorporates nostalgic wipes and fades to good use, while David Holmes’ jazzy musical score defines cool.

Remakes are always tricky, but since the original “Ocean’s Eleven” was more noted for its cast participation than anything else, Soderbergh has no difficultly making this film his own. As one of the best directors working today, Soderbergh’s ability to draw honest, natural performances out of his actors makes him the perfect choice to head up such an endeavor. The trust he shares with his actors allows them to have a good time while still respecting the work. You sense that in every scene, and a good time is had by all, including the audience.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: Good

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Good by not extremely flattering digital transfer that maintains director Soderbergh’s original vision. The colors are sharp and vibrant for the most part, but due the various film stocks Soderbergh employs (remember “Traffic”?), it’s difficult to discern flaws in the transfer. Blacks are decent enough, while there’s very little bleeding or fading. The transfer is clean and thanks to a pristine print, while whites are pure and shadows show okay definition. Flesh tones look good, and depth of field is strong. Attention to detail is a little sketchy due to the nature of the beast (a lot of scenes take place in low-lit rooms), but not enough to be distracting.

HEARING: Good

5.1 English Dolby Digital Surround

5.1 French Dolby Digital Surround

Acceptable soundtrack gets the job done without embarrassing itself. Surround effects are limited, mostly music, but the front sound stage is alive with action and good definition. Left-to-right stereo separation sounds authentic, while the dialogue mix is strong. Rear speakers aren’t nearly as busy, with mostly minute ambient noise and musical cues escaping. Front-to-rear spatial separation isn’t really noticeable, while the basses are less than thrilling. The overall mix is decent, pumping out the hip musical score with clarity and no noticeable hiss or distortion.

ORAL: Good

Closed Captions in English for the hard of hearing

Subtitles in English, French and Spanish

COORDINATION: Excellent

Two Feature-length audio commentaries, one featuring director Soderbergh and writer Ted Griffin, who give us a whirlwind tour of every aspect of the filmmaking process. The director and writer cover all of the bases, providing fans of the film with enough details and information to keep them happy for weeks. The second commentary track is a real jewel, featuring actors Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia all in the same room taking shots at each other and their missing comrades. These guys are a lot of fun to hang out with, and will more than likely win out over the director/writer track.

The Making of Oceans Eleven,

the HBO First Look special that includes the usual suspects and situations, all providing a quick but fascinating look into the making of the film.

The Look of the Con,

a brief (10 minute) fashion featurette where costume designer Jeffrey Kurland shows us how he dressed some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

The film’s original theatrical trailer, plus two teaser trailers.

Cast and Crew filmographies.

DVD-ROM features including web links to Warner Home Video’s “Ocean’s Eleven” website, plus links to other sites of interest.

Are You In or Out?

An interactive DVD-ROM game that provides you with the tools to pull off your own heist. A variety of challenges makes the task fun and exciting.

PROGNOSIS: Good

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: OCEAN’S ELEVEN

BIRTH DATE: 2001

HMO: Warner Home Video

RELEASE DATE: May 7



Comments are closed.