Best. Heist movie. Ever. Ocean’s Eleven feels like eleven cons pulled off in one smooth, sweet-talking, pass-fumbling feature. The master plan is a masterpiece where every master player offers a unique contribution. Wrinkles and surprise visits from the ex-wife or not, you can’t deny it feels oh so sweet to see Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), a sucker we barely know, get thoroughly screwed over by our new favourite gang of miscreants.
Fresh out of prison professional thief, Danny Ocean (George Clooney), is craving a new job – a big job. He sweet-talks his old pal, Rusty (Brad Pitt), into assembling a specialized team with a very particular set of skills to rob three high profile Las Vegas casinos. The best part is that – other than Danny – everyone has recently swapped the criminal life for slightly straighter professions (IT help, casino card dealer, acrobat, professional schmoozer, etc.). But who would deny a George Clooney in need? Especially when $160,000,000 is on the line? Ocean’s team plan the heist, rehearse it, and execute the complicated operation all to our awe and supreme enjoyment. Even the hiccups (because what’s a scam without a few bumps?) look like part of this stumblingly well-orchestrated performance.
Ocean’s Eleven starts off a little slow, as the characters assemble and pieces of the plan begin to come together. Once the actual job gets rolling, however, we slide full swing into Charmsville. People, it seems, will believe just about anything so long as you look them in the eye, say it with conviction, and dress like a man who could marry their daughter. The entire robbery takes about 40 minutes. That’s a full 40 minutes of clockwork planning and unforeseen obstacles. Ocean’s Eleven is a brilliant scheme that leaves you with a sense of shock and wonder and a stupid look on your face to match the one on Mr. Benedict’s.
The cinematography is also masterful. Everything has to run smoothly in order for the plan to work. The characters, therefore, never stop moving in an effort to keep the train on the tracks. To create this illusion the camera glides along like a partner in an ice dance competition. Meanwhile the environment is constantly shifting, forcing the thieves to move with it in order to avoid suspicion (and jail time). It’s all about blending in. Ocean’s Eleven’s suspense comes from unforeseen obstacles being thrown in the way of our crooked…crooks. The camera stops its graceful ballet and freezes, with a shared focus on the major problem and the sweaty faces of the guys in mission control. If I had to sum up the cinematography and direction of Ocean’s Eleven in two words I would say “jarringly fluid.”
Ocean’s Eleven is a completely re-watchable film, with lovably flawed characters and a hilariously sinful motive. There may be a dozen or so characters to keep track of, but the movie sees no point in lingering on unnecessarily equal screen time for all. Only Danny Ocean is really explored in detail, and that’s because his backstory has a strong influence on the success of the scheme. The other actors have to capture the full extent of their characters over a few short scenes. Ocean’s Eleven is proof that a great character can pop out of thin air; you don’t necessarily need a full family history or playful montage to get acquainted. The best evidence I have of this (spoiler alert) is when the elevator opens and Tess (Julia Roberts) gives Benedict the deepest look of betrayal. We never really learn why she left Danny or how she wound up with Benedict, but that one look says more than a monologue ever could.
A funny, clever movie with brilliant dialogue and excellent execution, Ocean’s Eleven is a beautiful blend of comedy, action, and drama. It’s a classic story of a robbery that could never, ever work and yet it’s so very, very entertaining to watch them try. Ocean’s Eleven is a 9/10.