While we are on the topic of greatest movies ever made, let’s talk about the Ocean’s trilogy.
Steven Soderbergh is unpredictable, he retired from movie making some four years ago and then came back to make Logan Lucky, many called it an inversion of his Ocean’s trilogy; functional and without any style. The whole style vs substance would put the Ocean’s trilogy in bad light, but in reality style is the substance in these films.
Soderbergh himself has taken various positions on the Oceans franchise, from being appreciative to being ‘I don’t really care if you don’t like it’; but he has admitted that a lot of work went into the trilogy and that is why it is interesting (and great). A carefully constructed ode to old hollywood but still very modern and yet entertaining cinema.
Full disclosure: the Ocean’s trilogy for me is up there (obviously with LOTR) in terms of breaking up characters and their tales into three parts. The Lord of the Rings also had the cushion of a literary work and generations of readers who are familiar with the story.
Breaking down the Ocean’s trilogy; 11 sets up Ocean and his men brilliantly and 13 perfectly completes the story. Twelve falls short because it is unlike 11 or 13, but definitely the most interesting.
Soderbergh’s source material was a 1960 film directed by Moldovian-American director Lewis Milestone*; the original Ocean’s 11 headlined by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, a film that currently holds only 48% weight on critic aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. That the remake has a score of 82%, that’s where I stop with the facts.
Even as a choice this seems quite odd for a remake. Soderbergh is like that, he professes that many directors too are like him: attracted to not so greater works of great filmmakers. Positively, this could be seen as learning from other’s mistakes but realistically it is about ignoring what ‘most people’ have agreed upon.
Great work usually comes from not-so great sources
Having seen the 1960 film, memorable is not something I would associate with it; but I can take a guess, it was the probably playful tone and actors bouncing off each other that attracted Soderbergh. He makes the source material his own and we get with three well directed classic films on professionalism and camaraderie.
Show, but don’t show-off
Like most films in this genre where we are indeed cheering for the bad guys, there is a sense of casual code; the team may seem like an assembly of rag-tag crooks but really they are bound together by their professionalism and dislike for vanity. Yes vanity.
Let’s look at the antagonist in the three films
- Villain 1-Ocean’s 11: Terry Benedict: owner of 3 of the biggest casinos and suitably self-obsessed
- Villain 2-Ocean’s 12: The Night Fox: a self congratulatory European gentleman thief
- Villain 3-Ocean’s 13: Willy Bank: megalomaniac, obsessed with building the best hotel on the strip
If there had been an Ocean’s 14, then it is quite possible that the rat-pack would have taken on Tony Stark (yawn) or Donald Trump(?). The only difference between the good guys and the bad guys is “you can be be cool by not saying so”.
Also take into account that the villains have to be over the top, so that the thievery can be normalized but there is always an undercurrent of Ocean and co having a personal stake in the happenings. It is not about the money, but about the job.
It is always about the job
Coming back to professionalism: to sum up, the three films are about a bunch of guys who really really(emphasis mine) love their job and are very good at it, ready to accept unreasonable challenges but don’t want to be seen as very serious about it. It’s part of their act.
Daniel Ocean claims to look at the angles of buildings even when he is not working, Linus spends the prize of the first movie in improving his ‘skills’, Rusty tries running a hotel but feels he is not good at anything else.
The dialogue is a dictionary on skill development, tactics(looky loo with a bundle of joy!) and planning , everyone working towards doing a better con than before. Like Basher puts it ” we don’t do the same gag twice“. Optimization.
Much has been written about work and fun, as though they are too separate things; and coming from a society where the skills you have is almost always not the one which would be called to action at work, I am able to relate to this differentiation. Meaning work is the complete opposite of fun. Maybe that’s why Ocean’s sticks with me, it is about how with the right skills at the right place, any con is doable; I mean any goal is achievable.
Soderbergh could have just made a series of films about a bunch of accountants and still he would have made it in interesting. Ocean’s for me in many ways is about the triumph of work and not without the help of any hack productivity handbook. A very American thing, but countries are really built by hard working passionate men (and women), who don’t usually get their due.
It is also about the gang
Already covered is their common dislike to individual success, Ocean despite being a master thief doesn’t work alone, the loot is equally shared even if everybody’s skills are not completely utilized.
Two of the three movies happen just to set things right for their mentor Reuben, and all the time they spend together is playful and devoid of any real conflict; the spirit of friendship pervades all through, just like friends having a good time in real life.
But more importantly, it all comes together very well
And finally a listicle!
If you have never watched the Ocean’s trilogy, here’s what you should expect.
- Addictive. Re-watchable. Laugh-out-loud funny.
- Sweeping the casino carpet type cinematography.
- A soundtrack that stays with you for life.
- Blow-your-cinephile-mind team up.
- Rusty and Danny saying so much by not saying a word.
- The twins saying so much but actually saying nothing.
- The Amazing Yen!
- Bruce Willis as himself.
- And introducing Tess as Julia Roberts! (the whole Looky Loo sequence)
- Vincent Cassel -laser dance.
- Viva La Revolucion!
- Al Pacino ordering a Samsung phone
- Everybody knowing Mandarin (no language imposition, they know it on the job)
- “They have enough armed personnel to occupy Paris”
- George Clooney saying “yeah”
- The fountains swaying to Debussy’s Claire De Lune
The general coolness of it all(without being cool, sorry Quentin). I mean what is not to like?
Among the greatest Hollywood films, indeed.