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Less than 24 hours after being released from prison, charismatic thief Danny Ocean orchestrates the most sophisticated casino heist in history. In one night, Danny's handpicked 11-man crew of specialists -– including an ace card sharp, a master pickpocket and a demolition genius -– will attempt to steal over $150 million from three Las Vegas casinos owned by Terry Benedict, the ruthless entrepreneur who just happens to be dating Danny's ex-wife Tess. To score the cash, Danny will have to risk his life and his chance of reconciling with Tess...
For more about Ocean's Eleven and the Ocean's Eleven Blu-ray release, see Ocean's Eleven Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 10, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, Julia Roberts
Director: Steven Soderbergh
» See full cast & crew
Ocean's Eleven Blu-ray Review
An all star cast provides solid entertainment in this heralded remake of the 1960 Rat Pack caper film.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 10, 2009
Heist and caper movies have been part and parcel of film history since. . .well, since The Great Train Robbery, the 1903 movie credited with being one of the first successes of any real length in narrative form (the British actually may have gotten there first with A Daring Daylight Robbery, but I'll be a chauvinist for purposes of this review). Now, Robbery may not have been the most artful heist movie on record, but it started a genre that has been one of the most unfailingly popular throughout the ensuing century plus since it first lit up screens. What is it about caper and heist films that so captivates audiences? Part of it must be the intricate planning which is more often than not lovingly detailed, though crafty filmmakers often show plots being hatched without fully revealing various details, giving some nice "so that's how they dd that" moments to audiences during the denouement. And of course there's the vicarious thrill of seeing someone, or a group of someones, make off with what is usually a pretty lucrative catch. In fact it's interesting to note than in most heist films, the audience is unabashedly rooting for who in any other film would be the bad guys—the thieves. Sometimes the heist is the focus of the film (Topkapi), while at other times, it becomes almost tangential to what is really going on (The Usual Suspects). Capers can be played for laughs (A Fish Called Wanda) or deadly seriously (The Asphalt Jungle). What really matters is a plan of intricacy which, unless handled by a master of, say, John Huston's capabilities, usually shuffles the characters instigating the plan pretty much into the background. Ocean's Eleven is the perfect example of that proclivity—it derives its very palpable fun from the plan being executed, but the characters are either glyphs or stereotypes, existing pretty much off the pure star wattage the leading players bring to them. This is pure escapist fare, and as such fulfills its modest ambitions more or less perfectly.
The first Ocean's Eleven, the 1960 Rat Pack feature starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and a host of other Sinatra hangers-on, became one of the most, if not the most, popular features these legendary buddies made together. This 2001 remake, helmed by Steven Soderbergh, keeps the basic premise—a group of lovable ne'er-do-wells plans an elaborate heist of several Las Vegas casinos—while jettisoning virtually everything else about the original version. Except this: the original played off its star power with the exact same élan that this remake does. Sinatra was Sinatra in this film, just as Clooney is Clooney. You get absolute professionalism from these actors, don't get me wrong—but you will have to search hard and long to see any glimmers of actual characterization beyond the admittedly beautiful facades each of these stars brings to their roles. Ted Griffin's screenplay attempts to give at least some passing attempts toward backstory and motivation, but it's silly, really. Will audiences really care that Clooney, as Danny Ocean, is really out to reconcile with his ex-wife (Julia Roberts)? It's a trope of the highest order—what you're really waiting for is the kiss between two stars; it matters not one whit what ostensible characters the stars are playing.
And so we are offered a panoply of star turns—by which I mean actors playing themselves more or less—by Brad Pitt as Clooney's cohort, Mark Damon as the young 'un pulling off his first "really big show," Andy Garcia as the nasty casino owner, and the late Bernie Mac as an "inside man" working for one of the casinos. A handful of supporting players get their opportunities for fun if not outright scenery-chewing, including Elliott Gould as the smarmy financier backing the thieves, Don Cheadle as a hilarious British explosives expert, Casey Affleck and Scott Caan as the dunderheaded brothers assisting Clooney's crew (and as a native born Utahn I could only nod in agreement that they hailed from Salt Lake City), and especially the great Carl Reiner as the elder statesman con artist whose character's fate may mimic, albeit briefly, the one played by Richard Conte in the original. All of these people, including of course Clooney and Roberts, are more or less pitch perfect in absolutely one dimensional, window dressing roles. They propel the plot as they are required to, much as the hapless stars of Mission: Impossible used to do on a weekly basis. They're fun to watch, and nimbly entertaining, but they are all surface all the time.
Which brings us to the centerpiece of any good heist film, the heist itself. Soderbergh stages this segment of the film just a trifle strangely, with cuts to the prize fight that is happening at the same time (keep your eyes peeled for original version co-star Angie Dickinson, air-kissing Eydie Gorme in the audience). There are also several cheats which Soderbergh unapologetically offers to the audience, including characters who are not what they seem to be, others whose fates are falsely depicted, and a rather alarming lack of logic as the caper draws to its close. But it's briskly staged, and viscerally exciting, with just the right amount of wink-wink, nudge-nudge to let the audience know nothing is being taken especially seriously.
What really emerges from Ocean's Eleven is the wonderful chemistry between Clooney and Pitt. It reminded me, as strange as this may sound, of that between Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the old Road pictures. Like this Ocean's Eleven, the Road features were in and of themselves no great shakes, and yet they were marvelous entertainments, due mostly to the stars' interactions. Clooney and Pitt are like a well-oiled machine here, riffing through Griffin's one liners with absolute ease and bringing a slyly anarchic subtext to the proceedings. For every maudlin quivering lip and watering eye Roberts offers as the presumably wounded ex-wife, we're thankfully offered hilarious quips from both the male stars with nary a hint of emotional posturing. It's the humor which elevates Ocean's Eleven to the enjoyment status it attains, more than any frankly ridiculous attempts to imbue the stereotypical characters with any backstories, or the equally ridiculous attempts to occasionally mine emotional depths.
Ocean's Eleven reinvigorated the heist/caper genre and of course was so successful it's spawned two sequels (so far), both of which I'll be reviewing soon. It's not the masterpiece some people have claimed it to be, but it's something woefully needed in a world which is at times drowning in pathos--it's an unapologetic, unabashed piece of entertainment.
Ocean's Eleven Blu-ray, Video Quality
Ocean's Eleven 1080p/VC-1 encoded image is remarkably sharp and detailed, with a pleasing assortment of well saturated colors throughout. Soderbergh does utilize some post-production processing on some shots, and the film opens with a sort of blue-green prison scene which is striking. Some of the "historical heist recreation" shots are similarly in grainy black and white and a sort of garishly over saturated 1970's look, both of which the Blu-ray handles with ease. There's an appealingly high level of detail throughout the film, including everything from Pitt's unkempt hair to the nap of the green velour table coverings in Vegas. The heist section features long segments swathed in darkness, and contrast and black levels throughout this sequence are quite good. The Blu-ray perfectly resolved some busy pattern work as well, including the multitude of lit signs on the Strip. This is a definite step up from the SD-DVD release, and should please even the most discriminating videophile.
Ocean's Eleven Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Unfortunately, the audio options aren't up to Blu-ray state of the art, with a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track as the main offering. While I'm not the lossless purist that a lot of Blu-ray aficionados are, I was a little disappointed in this mix, which is awfully front-centric most of the time. In fact, one of the few times I felt really immersed in the soundscape was the MGM Grand arena scene at the fight, when finally some rear channel action kicked in. There is some good, if not exceptional, use of LFE in a series of explosions which rock the soundfield from time to time. Dialogue is crisp and clear and occasionally excellently directional, but, again, I was really surprised by how much of this film plays front and center from a dialogue perspective. The popularity of this film made it an early Blu-ray prospect and Warner simply may not have had the time or acumen to provide a true high definition sound mix for this release.
Ocean's Eleven Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Several middling to good SD supplements augment the feature (all ported over from the previous SD-DVD release):
• Two OK to very good commentaries are included, the lesser one featuring Soderbergh and Griffin. Stick with the much better star commentary, which is frequently hilarious if not especially "scene specific."
• The Look of the Con gives background on the costume design.
• HBO First Look is a pretty lame "behind the scenes" featurette with typical fare.
• Theatrical teasers and trailers.
Ocean's Eleven Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Ocean's Eleven may not be the best heist film ever made, but it's one of the most enjoyable, due largely to the breezy interplay of a galaxy of top flight stars. Soderbergh mounts the action with fluidity and confidence, and Clooney and Pitt prove they're ready for any 21st century Road picture.
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Ocean's Eleven Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Warner Offers Ocean's 11 & 12 Separately - February 29, 2008
Warner Home Video has announced that they will offer both 'Ocean's 11' and 'Ocean's 12' as separate Blu-ray releases on April 29th. Until now, the first two Ocean's movies were only available as part of a trilogy gift set released last November. Warner will now ...
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