Oceans 12 was an abomination. The review in today's NY Times was quite positive -- made me want to check it out. I had enjoyed the first one as a well executed bon bon
They Always Come Out Ahead; Bet on It
By MANOHLA DARGIS
Ah, bliss, the gang’s all here, well, the guys anyway, looking fighting trim and Hollywood beautiful, at your disposable pleasure as well as mine. There’s George, of course, as in Mr. Clooney, lovely and lean and a touch more gray, smiling and gliding his way through the shimmer and gleam. Brad, henceforth known as Pitt the Elder, looks a wee tired around the eyes, like a baby-bottle warmer on 3 a.m. call, while Matt Damon looks handsomer, somehow more adult, now that he has a lucrative action franchise to call his own. The third time really is a charm.
“Ocean’s 23,” oops, “Ocean’s Thirteen,” is also a gas; it’s lighter than air, prettier than life, a romp, a goof and an attentively oiled machine. Our master of ceremonies, Steven Soderbergh, having come down the mountain of his own grandiose ambitions (more on that later), is working it hard here and working it very well. The screenplay, from the new team members Brian Koppelman and David Levien, moves fast and makes you laugh, partly because the elaborate plot often makes no seeming sense. But sense can be awfully overrated at times, particularly with an enterprise like this, which pushes at the limits of conventional narrative filmmaking, forcing your attention away from the story’s logical bricks and mortar toward its fields of dancing colors and a style that is its content.
This third time around, Mr. Clooney’s Danny Ocean has returned to Las Vegas to bail out his old buddy and former mentor Reuben (Elliott Gould as the spirit of 1970s cinema idiosyncrasy), who has recently been taken for a pricey ride down chump avenue by a Vegas villain named, nicely, nicely, Runyon-style, Willy Bank. Played by a tamped-down, amused and amusing Al Pacino, Willy Bank is a pint-size Trump in oversize eyeglasses and a burnt-orange tan that makes him look like an Hermès handbag, especially when he’s keeping company with his second-in-command, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin, ropy, ripe and oh-so-ready). Mr. Pacino and Ms. Barkin, who once steamed up the screen together in the 1989 thriller “Sea of Love,” sweeten the pot without making it boil.
But that’s how everything rolls in Mr. Soderbergh’s Vegas: smoothly and sleekly and low to the ground, without obvious effort and, most important, without ugliness. America’s playground has never looked more glamorous and seductive than it does in the first and most recent “Ocean’s”; it’s no wonder the casinos play along with whatever nonsense Mr. Soderbergh puts into gear, whether it’s a blackout (as in the first film) or an absurdly contrived disaster (the third). When Danny Ocean and his Boy Friday, Rusty Ryan (Mr. Pitt), stroll across a casino floor, you never see the cigarette burns on the carpeting or the middle-aged men quietly weeping after the night and their savings are long gone. When they’re in town, the promise of Vegas burns as bright as the city’s gaudy lights.
That promise may be a lie, but because all three “Ocean’s” are also self-consciously about the smoke and mirrors and glamour of movies — their elaborate cons can sound a lot like film-financing schemes — it is the kind of lie that nurtures and sustains. These movies bewitch precisely because they exist outside the prison house of realism that Mr. Soderbergh sometimes seems overly anxious to lock himself — and his audiences — into, as witness his unfortunately punishing last effort, “The Good German.” In the “Ocean’s” trilogy, you enter an enchanted realm where Mr. Clooney and Mr. Pitt are the world’s loveliest, luckiest hucksters and sparring partners, heirs to Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “The Sting,” as well as to Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday.”
You also enter a world of visual enchantments. Working under the name Peter Andrews, Mr. Soderbergh again shows what an exceptional cinematographer he can be, whether shooting on celluloid or in video, with a particular sensitivity to the narrative and graphical uses of color. Many of the casino scenes in this “Ocean’s” look as softly burnished as gold ingots, as if they had been dipped in a 24-karat finishing bath. Perhaps in homage to the mid-1960s Jean-Luc Godard or just because the results look so extraordinary, Mr. Soderbergh occasionally saturates the image with an iridescent red that makes everything inside the frame look as if it were gently vibrating. At other times, he floods the image with a piercing blue that summons up twilight on the Côte d’Azur.
We are a long way from sundown on the Strip and much of contemporary Hollywood too, and so much the better. One of the most creatively restless filmmakers working the studio system today, Mr. Soderbergh has for a number of years divided his time and energy between expensive, star-studded productions like the “Ocean’s” films and smaller projects like “Bubble” (shot in high-definition digital without professional actors). With any other director, the tendency would be to classify the smaller, cheaper films as personal and the bigger, costlier ventures as strictly professional, pounds of flesh that an artist like Mr. Soderbergh must forfeit for experiments (and box office flops) like “The Good German” and his touching, unloved remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.”
Yet to watch Mr. Clooney, Mr. Pitt and Mr. Damon in the “Ocean’s” films, along with those other merry men — Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison and Shaobo Qin — is to realize that it’s a mistake to separate Mr. Soderbergh’s personal visions from his professional commitments. All the films are strictly personal; it is just that some, like “The Good German,” have been made more for Mr. Soderbergh’s pleasure than for ours. Part of what makes the “Ocean’s” films, even the self-indulgent second installment, so enjoyable is that they’re not only about Mr. Soderbergh’s obsessive aesthetic investment in every single shot, but they’re also about him trying to make the audience love his images every bit as much as he does.
This isn’t about compromise; it’s about locating that sweet spot between the work of art and the audience, and turning a private reverie into a public expression. One of the truths about Mr. Soderbergh is that while his heart and head seem to lean toward more rarefied film practices, evidenced by his (improved) remake of an art-house heavyweight like “Solaris” and his aggressively anti-aesthetic exercise like “Bubble,” he has over the years also mastered classic Hollywood techniques brilliantly. Playing inside the box and out, he has learned to go against the grain while also going with the flow. In “Ocean’s Thirteen” he proves that in spades by using color like Kandinsky and hanging a funny mustache on Mr. Clooney’s luscious mug, having become a genius of the system he so often resists.
“Ocean’s Thirteen” is rated PG-13. (Parents strongly cautioned.) Gambling looks mighty fun in this film, as does larceny.
Some days I pray for Silence, Some days I pray for Soul,
Some days I just pray to the God of Sex and Drums and Rock 'N' Roll.