Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Ocean’s Twelve is a clever ensemble comedy dressed as a crime-caper movie. When a director with a reputation as a serious artist makes a sequel to a caper movie (he directed the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven) he has to play around with the genre -- show some flair. Steven Soderbergh made a sharp-witted comedy that almost could be seen as a parody of caper movies – there are so many implausible twists in the plot that I think he’s poking fun at typical crime movies with ridiculously convoluted plots.
The basic idea is that the victim from the first movie, a casino owner played by Andy Garcia, has caught up with the eleven who ripped him off for $160 million and he wants his money back – or else. The eleven (plus one), led by Danny Ocean (George Clooney) get together and figure out the only way to pay him back: do another job. And, after a couple twists and turns, that job turns out to be a theft competition with another accomplished thief (Vincent Cassel as the “Night Fox” -- a bored-rich-guy “bad thief” who steals for fun and leaves little fox figurines as a signature at crime scenes.) Although nominally the casino guy is threatening to kill our cool crew, the tone of the film isn’t one of imminent danger but of having fun while racing around Amsterdam and Rome against a deadline to return the money. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a super cop (a detective for “Europol” – where there’s one hilarious meeting in which she describes the threat of Night Fox to a stone-faced auditorium.) She got her “super” from her estranged father who was a master thief. Ocean’s Twelve never descends into farce but it’s clearly a light-hearted movie that entertains – not an edge-of-the-seat thriller.
If you accept the premise that Ocean’s Twelve is intended to be primarily an ensemble comedy rather than a hard-boiled crime film, the script is very well written. There is so much quick and sharp dialog and double-back-flip plot twisting that the people who enjoy this style of comedy will want to see it again or buy the DVD. There are a lot of characters to keep track of and more than a few quick, off-hand remarks that are important to what comes later.
Julia Roberts has a small part playing Tess Ocean (Danny’s wife, who disapproves of his capers) who plays a pregnant Julia Roberts to create a distraction to aid in a heist. There’s a funny scene where Matt Damon and a couple others coach Tess on how to be Julia Roberts – an element of Hollywood spoof that I loved.
I have to give Ocean’s Twelve no better than average marks in the important area of cinematography. For a production budget in the neighborhood of $115 million, I don’t think we should see a lot of grainy, burned-out images on the big screen. This is intentional, of course, and a device that Steven Soderbergh uses frequently -- to powerful effect in Traffic -- I might add. I can’t see what that and his frequent use of a hand-held camera does to enhance this movie. It’s just part of his style, I guess. I would like to see more beautiful exterior shots – Rome, in particular, is a very photogenic city. His movies are usually clever in one way or another but he just isn’t big on beautiful photography. I don’t see why witty dialog and great acting can’t co-exist with gorgeous cinematography.
I like the playful Steven Soderbergh of Ocean’s Twelve more than the serious, contemplative, art-film guy who made Solaris. He did a great job of working with the excellent cast of Hollywood A-listers – the dialog is witty and fast but the performances are smooth and natural. George Clooney and Brad Pitt play suave, experienced super-thieves while Matt Damon stood out as an awkward apprentice who aspires to be a lead dog but screws up a lot. The hesitant insecurity of that character gave me some of the best laughs.
While the crime-caper plot of Ocean’s Twelve is implausible to the twelfth power, I don’t take it as a straight-up thriller. The crime-caper angle just provides a vehicle to showcase a top-notch cast working some very cool material. The comedy is more smart verbal banter than slapstick – a good holiday movie choice for the over-21 set.
Photographs are copyright Warner Brothers.
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