With the female-spin-off of the popular Steven Soderbergh crime series “Ocean’s 8” approaching soon, I’d like to share with you my perspectives of the original “Ocean’s 11” and the original “Ocean’s Eleven.” Notice the difference.
“Ocean’s 11” (1960)
This 1960 crime caper, directed by Lewis Milestone, has received mixed reviews from critics, before I glared at it. It just goes to show that not every vantage movie is a classic. It takes more than dialogue and charisma to be a masterpiece, but this isn’t it.
It features the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra as Danny Ocean, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop), Richard Conte, Henry Silva, Buddy Lester, Richard Benedict, Norman Fell, and Clem Harvey planning to rob five Las Vegas casinos on New Year’s Eve. Most of them are WWII 82nd Airborne veterans.
Among the other stars, Angie Dickinson as Danny’s wife Beatrice Ocean, who begins to lose her love for him. She tells him he prefers danger over romance, but he responds with an “I can’t change” note, “And anyone who says he can is a liar.”
And Cesar Romero plays an ex-gangster, who plans to foil the heist, by getting the casino their money back. Especially since, he knows who’s behind this. I like his charisma, but I could barely read him. He’s no classic antagonist.
The movie starts off slow and convoluting, with the introduction of the main characters. With all this babbling and lifeless ambitions, you can barely read them. Again, I wanted a classic, more than characters talking. It talks the talk, and doesn’t walk the walk.
It does pick up, however, with Danny Ocean introducing his plan of giving Las Vegas a 10-15 minute black-out, in order to pull off the heist. Sinatra, my favorite Rat Pack singer, plays him with the kind of charm I admire from him. Davis, Jr. has some nice moments, like when he sings and drives aways the getaway garbage truck (because that’s how they transport the money). The editing of the five casinos celebrating New Years is done with colorful sets, and organized timing. And I was dancing and singing along to Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” Man, I love that song.
The movie does have its moments, but the movie isn’t all that special. The heist, during and after, isn’t surprising, because we see how its paying off; the characters are out of focus, and barely gives me any clarifications; and the ambition begins to sink. Not every old movie is a classic, and this one is no exception.
“Ocean’s Eleven” (2001)
This remake from 2001, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is actually better than the 1960 film in a lot of ways. It’s given good choices, strong ambitions, and a lot of fun. In fact, it’s one of the best crime capers I’ve ever seen.
It stars George Clooney as Danny Ocean, who gets released from prison, and reunites with his partner-in-crime Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) to find a team of professionals to pull off an impossible heist-a few Las Vegas casinos, all owned by his rival Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). A snag in their plan-Benedict is dating Danny’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). “Is this personal?,” Ocean’s team worries.
Their team includes the young pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), the British explosives expert Bashar Tarr (Don Cheadle), the Malloy brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan), the casino worker Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), the surveillance expert Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison), the acrobat Yen (Shaobo Qin), the old con man Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), and former casino owner Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould).
This version is smart, stylish, and very sharp. What I love about Soderbergh’s crime capers is how he manages to pull off the heists without leaving any stupid mistakes. He casts Clooney, Pitt, and Damon with the intelligence they’re meant to have; Roberts with a sassy taste; Mac, Cheadle, Gould, and Reiner with amazing dialogue; Affleck and Caan with comical bickering (acting or genuine); and Garcia with vulnerability. What a cast!
The movie is also funny with how the bandits pull off the robbery, how the Malloy brothers bicker, and how Catton attacks Caldwell as part of the plan. I found myself giggling at times. You don’t need slapstick or vulgar dialogue to be hilarious.
Back to the “without leaving any stupid mistakes” thing, I love watching these crime capers, where the good criminals get away with the crime, at least 98% of the time, depending on how it all plays out. It organizes scenes, and has things all planned out, whether we predict them or not. I love how this works out.
It’s not often we get a remake that outfoxes the original, and that’s what “Ocean’s Eleven” does. I’m not gonna lie, but it’s true.
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