It’s not easy to do an adequate remake in Hollywood. Often, a remake is done simply because Hollywood doesn’t have enough creativity or that someone revives the uninspired belief that a past “name” means cash today. The folks behind the remake of “Ocean’s 11” from 1960 (click here for my review) knew what they were doing, obviously had fun doing it and did it well. So today I’m looking at the remade “Ocean’s Eleven” (the original is known by both word and number, but check the name issue in the review) and its associated fun as a buddy movie with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and the rest of their gang.
(2001; 116 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon)
UPDATING THE ‘RAT PACK’ … WELL DONE
(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional opinion and trivia and the updating of links on Dec. 1, 2018.)
Caper movies are always fun and when you throw in a group of actors having fun making the fun, it can work out perfectly. The original “Ocean’s 11” in 1960 (click here for my review) showed the way with Frank, Dean and the boys having fun in Las Vegas. Fast forward two generations and you get the wonderful “Ocean’s Eleven” with George, Brad and the boys. Both are good and I’ve already reviewed the original, so now it’s the remake’s turn.
I’ll have to admit that I’m not a big George Clooney fan, but he won me over with this one. I really liked Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack’s original and director Steven Soderbergh and friends do a thumbs-up remake here. Soderbergh keeps true to the original while updating it without having to veer too far off course for the change over 40+ years.
Just to refresh those cats not in the know, Frank and the boys were THE thing in 1960. They were in film, music, TV and just about everywhere you looked. They were America on the rise: a diverse group that wasn’t out to do anything but entertain and have fun themselves. So their movies were fun and in “Ocean’s 11” they robbed casinos and were simply too cool while doing it. Now, it’s time again.
Clooney is the title character “Danny Ocean” and he’s just out of prison for some scam. His latest brainchild is robbing three Vegas casinos that share an underground vault. Clooney then puts together the financing and crew to hit that vault and the $160 million in it (that’s more than 10 times the haul in the original). The group moves forward in the plan with the expected aplomb and élan and overcome some hurdles just to show they’re not perfect. Hey, they even have to steal a nuclear-type device to set off near the hotel because it sends out electromagnetic waves that will force the shut-down of electricity. Wow! That’s some plan.
Just like in the original the actual robbery is complicated, intricate and absolutely could never happen this way. Since the crime is incidental to the guys, it really doesn’t matter, does it?
Let’s take a look at the very top of the expansive cast …
- A two-time Oscar winner and four-time nominee (not for this one), Clooney is suave, smooth and all too easily provides the Sinatra-like sophistication here. As “Danny Ocean” he’s confident, calm, collected and determined … but not only to rob the casinos but to get his wife (Julia Roberts as “Tess”) back and get back at casino owner “Terry Benedict” (played by Andy Garcia). It’s difficult to judge Clooney here against his strong effort in “From Dusk Till Dawn” since the horror film is so graphically violent that the gore, gunplay and sleaziness overcome the character (click here for my review). In any case Clooney is solid here and has recently been in “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” “Gravity” and “The Monuments Men.” He won an acting Oscar for “Syriana” and one for producing the best film “Argo” and has been nominated the other times for acting as well as writing.
- Second billed here is Oscar winner and four-time nominee (not for this one) Brad Pitt. He plays “Rusty Ryan” and he’s joined at the hip to Clooney. Pitt is as watchable as ever here as the easily bored crook who needs motivation above and beyond money for the crime. Pitt is eating something in just about every scene he’s in here and is so good he doesn’t appear to be acting. He has also been in “Fight Club” and I believe he did great work in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” He won his Oscar for being co-producer of “12 Years a Slave” and has been nominated for both acting and producing (he got nominations in both for the simply terrific baseball flick “Moneyball”).
Here’s a quick rundown of the other primary cast members …
- Matt Damon plays “Linus Caldwell” and does the young, eager crook-on-the-rise very well. Damon has been better in more serious roles (such as in “Rounders” – click here for my review) but you have to remember this one is a little bit off the cuff. Damon has also excelled in “Good Will Hunting” as well as the delightful “Dogma” (click here for my review).
- Bernie Mac is “Frank Catton” and is the combustible, outgoing member of the crew. He does a good job here with just the right amount of screen time. Bernie Mac has also been in the very sleazy “Bad Santa” (the uncut version is particularly odious) as well as “Guess Who.” He died at 50 in 2008 of complications from pneumonia.
- Carl Reiner plays “Saul Bloom” and is the key member of the crew who gets Garcia to put an all-important briefcase in the casino’s vault (it holds the explosives necessary for the robbery). Reiner clearly enjoys is role and is the elder statesman here. He was directed while acting in “Summer School” (click here for my review) and “Fatal Instinct” and tons of TV including an episode of “Two and a Half Men.”
- Scott Caan and Casey Affleck play “The Mormon Twins,” who are “Turk and Virgil Malloy.” They are the drivers and jacks-of-all-trades for the crew and they do incessant bickering so well you’d almost believe they were brothers in real life (Casey is brother to the more famous Ben). Instead of more screen time here, the duo should have had their own sitcom. Caan is best known for TV’s “Hawaii Five-O” and Affleck was in “Good Will Hunting” before an Oscar win for “Manchester by the Sea” and a nomination for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”
- Elliott Gould plays “Rueben Tishkoff,” who is the casino owner doesn’t like Garcia and finances the robbery. He is good here, but cannot distinguish himself because of the big cast. Gould was also in the war classic “A Bridge Too Far” (click here for my review).
Rounding out the rest of the crew is Don Cheadle as “Basher Tarr,” who is the explosives expert; and Eddie Jemison as “Livingston Dell,” who is the electronics expert. Both give solid, capable performances (Cheadle is just a little bit better, in my opinion) but are in too big of a cast to stand out. Cheadle, who is uncredited in “Ocean’s Eleven,” was nominated for an Oscar in “Hotel Rwanda” and Jemison has been in “Bruce Almighty.” Finally, Shaobo Qin makes his film debut here (and his only two others would be in the coming sequels). In real life he was a member of the acclaimed Peking Acrobats and that’s what his character “Yen” is here. It’s very difficult to get a handle on his ability as actor with such a small role (although he does do a great flip as well as flip a good bird).
As noted, Garcia is the bad guy here as the no-nonsense, bottom-line casino boss. Garcia does a good job as the cold, calculating “Terry Benedict” and has also been in the outstanding but little remembered “The Mean Season” and was in “The Untouchables.”
The lead female role here is by Julia Roberts as “Tess Ocean,” who is Clooney’s former and doesn’t want to get back with him. I’ve never been impressed by Roberts’ work (I just don’t see what the fuss is about from this only modestly talented actor) and I don’t see much here. She’s also been in “Pretty Woman” and “Runaway Bride” as well as … ah, who cares? I don’t.
It all turns out good in the end for the guys … except that Clooney and Pitt are being followed by Garcia’s boys, so you know the story isn’t finished. Two more sequels will follow (actually I only count once since “Ocean’s Twelve” is a poor effort with the absolutely talentless Catherine Zeta-Jones following the almost-as-bad Roberts).
Here’s a slightly rewritten paragraph about the name of both films from my first review:
- One thing I couldn’t quite put my hand on is the meaning behind the name of the films. Both are “Ocean’s Eleven” in title credits and the original is also named “Ocean’s 11” on part of its credits and on its DVD covers. Make note of the singular possessive. In the original there is “Danny Ocean” and TEN others … or 11 if you count the money man. In the remake with Clooney, there’s “Danny Ocean” and NINE others … or 10 if you count the money man played by Gould (his is a bigger role than the one played by Akim Tamiroff in the original). So is it grammatically correct that it is “Ocean’s” 11 guys or a total of 11 in the gang? Either way, one of the films flubs the numbers game.
Similarities between the original and remake abound right to the end where members of the group walk out with a casino in the background or when Clooney tells Garcia he has connections with criminals and can find out who did the job (the link back to the Cesar Romero character in the original that wasn’t replicated here). How many you spot will reveal just how closely you watch (or watched) them both.
“Ocean’s Eleven” was the eighth ranked film at the U.S. box office in 2001 with $183.4 million, according to Box Office Mojo. On a budget of $85 million, “Ocean’s Eleven” brought in $450.7 million worldwide, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film was “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” with $317.5 million. Here are the other films from that year that I’ve reviewed:
- “Enemy at the Gates” (solid WWII film) – click here for my review
- “Good Advice” (not bad Charlie Sheen) – click here for my review
- “Jurassic Park III” (excellent sci-fi) – click here for my review
- “Shallow Hal” (sensational comedy) – click here for my review
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Garcia was quoted as saying it was difficult to do a serious scene with Reiner because of how funny Carl is to be around.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “Henry Silva and Angie Dickinson, who both appeared in the original Ocean’s 11 (1960), make cameo appearances during the fight scene. This would mark Silva’s last appearance in a film as he retired after.”
- One of the many casting notes about “Ocean’s Eleven” is that Bruce (“Die Hard”) Willis was originally cast to play “Danny Ocean” but had to pull out of the film. It would have been interesting since he could easily bring even more insouciance to the character than Clooney. In the end Clooney is a winner, but it would have been fun to see the contrast with the more blue-collar and snarky Willis.
- “Danny Ocean” is the only character in the remake with the same name as in the original.
- Caan is the son of “The Godfather’s” James Caan and there are a lot of up-angle camera shots with him – he’s only 5-foot-5. His height is equal to one micro-man of “The Big Bang Theory” (Johnny Galecki) and stands one-inch above really micro-man Rick Moranis of “My Blue Heaven” (click here for my review) and Galecki’s co-star Simon Helberg.
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “The wig used by Rusty (Brad Pitt) in his disguise as a doctor was Mike Myers‘s rehearsal wig for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997).”
- There are ton more trivia notes for the film and click here to see which actors were playing poker with Pitt at the beginning of the movie and a while bunch more.
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