Ocean's Thirteen (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I may be in the minority, but I don't consider Ocean's Twelve to be the dog that some critics have labeled it. Sure, it's a little self-indulgent, but it's a genial caper drama that allows us to spend some time in the company of the survivors of the 2001 remake of Ocean's Eleven. Now, along comes Ocean's Thirteen, and it's back to basics. This is a stripped-down, plot-oriented heist movie where character development and interpersonal interaction have been set aside in order to keep the parts clicking. It's like watching a huge Rube Goldberg machine. The end result is a foregone conclusion. The fascination comes from watching the contortions necessary to get there and guess what will happen next to propel events forward.

All of the previous Ocean's Eleven male cast members are back, although the two women - Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones - have elected to sit this one out, leaving full estrogen duties to Ellen Barkin. The film's new big gun is Al Pacino, who has his share of Al Pacino moments, including a nice little rant, to keep us from forgetting who he is. He's surrounded by about a dozen actors who have been through this twice before and seem so comfortable around each other than one suspects they might not be doing much acting. The Oceans movies have always been a lark for director Stephen Soderbergh and his stars, and nothing has changed this time around for this modern-day Rat Pack. Rumor has it there won't be an Ocean's Fourteen, but the way these guys enjoy playing off one another and tossing around one-liners, it can't be ruled out.

With the exception of a few opening scenes designed to inform us what an utter bastard Willie Bank (Pacino) is, Ocean's Thirteen is all about the Big Caper. In this case, it's to ruin Willie, who is opening a new Vegas Casino using land and money bilked from Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould). Reuben has a heart attack as a result of his treatment at Willie's hands and now the gang led by Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), and Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) wants revenge. Their idea: put the casino deep in the red and steal $250 million in diamonds. It's a huge, risky, expensive proposition and it requires deeper pockets than Danny and his compatriots have, so they go to an unlikely source for funding: casino mogul Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), their previous adversary. Terry is interested, but for a price: $72 million - a more than 100% return on his investment. But he's in this for more than the money. Like Ocean's crew, he wants to see Willie squirm.

The caper unfolds slowly, like an onion being peeled. The movie doesn't waste time with side plots or character building. This is roughly a 100 minute biopsy of every aspect of the crime. The movie keeps the audience guessing but is never too far ahead that we're in danger of becoming lost nor too far behind that we get the sense that the characters are slow-witted morons. Soderbergh sustains viewer interest, which allows the pacing to be brisk even though the amount of action is minimal. As thrillers go, this is a pretty low key affair. There's plenty of tension but there's more comedy than there is conventional action. Each character gets his moment but, because there are so many of them to accommodate during the two-hour running length, none of those moments is lengthy.

Ocean's Thirteen is the first sequel of the summer of 2007 not to fall on its face. The film is better paced and more involving than Ocean's Twelve but perhaps not as well executed as Ocean's Eleven. The appeal of the series isn't just the serpentine nature of the story, which by definition is out to trick the viewer, but seeing so many famous faces together in one place. There's something old fashioned about how this movie has been made and presented, and this is highlighted by the psychedelic opening and closing credits. The movie doesn't go deeply retro like Grindhouse but it intentionally raises memories of the original Rat Pack, even going so far as to invoke Frank Sinatra by name and by song.

The differences between Ocean and Clooney and Rusty and Pitt have become so blurred that a late-movie exchange between them carries a double meaning. It can be seen as an exchange between the characters or the actors, and makes sense in either context. The screenplay isn't a masterpiece of misdirection but it is smart enough that one can feel comfortable about keeping one's intelligence engaged as things unfold. The lack of explosions and gunfire makes this an atypical summer thriller, but its breezy brand of unforced and occasionally self-referential entertainment is a lot more fun than pirates, webslingers, and green ogres.

Ocean's Thirteen (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 2:02
U.S. Release Date: 2007-06-08
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1