Friday, June 22, 2007

OCEANS 13 (2007) – A Movie Review

This series is my favorite guilty pleasure of the decade. What works for me is the interplay between the cast and George Clooney and Brad Pitt in particular. The dialogue is clever and the actors have the charm to really pull it off. I think Clooney is the closest thing we have to Cary Grant these days and Brad Pitt is somehow a looser version of young Paul Newman, handsome, tough enough, and with a sense of humor. In other words, they’re real stars and leading men in a time where that seems scant.

In the first movie after the theft and when Clooney convinces Julia Roberts that Garcia is a bum, she chases Clooney down as the cops are carting him off to prison. She realizes that he did it all for her and they have a great but brief moment. I think it’s as good as the similar scene at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Holly finally gives in to Peppard who loves her. It works here because Clooney has a rare ability to combine charm and earnestness and you like the idea that he did it for more than the money. How can you not root for Clooney? What guy wouldn’t want to live a moment where the girl he loves is won over by his heroism?

Clooney and Pitt are thieves and yet they really trust each other in way that usually only happens at the end of most buddy films after the characters have fought and cussed each other out. Near the end of this film Clooney and Pitt are standing in front of the Belagio talking about the famous Casinos that use to stand in this area, the Sands, the Dessert Inn, etc. They both tell stories about how they met Elliot Gould’s character and how he was a mentor to them. The movie buff can sort of think back to young Eliot Gould in Robert Altman’s 70s poker film, California Split. It tackles in one scene their motivation for the entire scheme against Al Pacino, the current heavy. What impressed me is that these kinds of scenes almost never work, because they’re forced motivation written in for justification of earlier or later actions. Here Pitt, Clooney and Soderbergh make it seem from the heart.

This series has a lot of quiet moments and comic moments and the music is always just enough off-beat to be refreshing even if the heists or double crosses are beyond preposterous. Maybe it’s because they commit to the nonsense so much that you laugh with them. There’s a funny scene where Don Cheadle is digging a tunnel under Pacino’s casino in order to create a mock earthquake later in the movie. Something happens to the current tunnel digger and Cheadle says that they’ll need $30 million to buy the one that dug the chunnel. Another character says he thought that this was the one that dug the chunnel. Cheadle replies that this one dug from the English side and he needs the one that dug it from the French side. You just laugh and accept that you can fly the thing in from France and get it down into the tunnel in a day’s work.

The train station scene in the second film is fun every time. Clooney is self-conscious because someone says he looks 50. He polls the other guys and doesn’t like their answers. Matt Damon then asks Brad Pitt if he noticed how similar Julia Roberts’ character looks like the real Julia Roberts. It’s another scene meant for exposition since that becomes a plot point later. But instead of nodding Pitt says, it’s not his nature to be mysterious but he can’t talk about it and he can’t talk about why. It becomes a punch line that hides the foreshadowing.

At the end of OCEANS 13, Clooney, Pitt and now Matt Damon, who has graduated into the upper tier of thieves, sit in the Vegas airport waiting for their planes. They say their goodbyes like friends who don’t know whether they’ll see each other again. You kind of get the feeling that getting the cast back for another one is out of the question and you’re seeing the last of it. It made me feel melancholy.

I’m tough on movies, but this series gets to me despite the shortcomings that I would ridicule in most films. It really captures the beauty of friendship, and fighting for the things you believe in and the people you love. And yet it's a comedy with surprising laughs and clever moments. It's refreshing because it lacks cynicism in a cynical age. I really am sorry to see it end.

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