Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Film schools seeking the perfect example of smart, fun mainstream entertainment from the Zeroes need look no further than Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of the Rat Pack film and its second sequel, from 2007.
Both shook up the idea of brilliant, breezy capers with crisply heightened anxiety of elaborate heists, assured popcorn-picture style and a cast led by the new-Hollywood royalty triumvirate of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.
In Ocean’s Eleven, Clooney assumes the mantle from Ol’ Blue Eyes as Danny Ocean, the recently paroled leader of a cadre of cool-cat criminals. With sharp-dressed pointman Rusty Ryan (Pitt), Ocean attempts to take down the nefarious Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) by robbing his Bellagio, Mirage and MGM Grand casinos.
David Holmes’ mod-jazz score pulses with pep, and even with the star power on display, Soderbergh makes room for winning supporting turns from Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin and, especially, Carl Reiner. As funny and fragile aging huckster Saul Bloom, Reiner easily deserved an Oscar nomination over, of all performances, Ethan Hawke in Training Day.
There also are fewer calmly contemplative caper-movie conclusions than Eleven’s — a gathering at the Bellagio fountain to admire a work of art as complex and beautiful as the one they’ve just pulled off.
In Ocean’s Thirteen, Eddie Izzard’s suave techno-guru would appear to round out the dapper baker’s dozen. But this sequel’s scam slid so far down the socio-economic chute that the 13th man felt more like the average Joe or Jane.
Writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien crafted a thrillingly elaborate, specifically written casino-oriented con to again enliven the franchise. It’s a nice rebound from 2004’s Ocean’s Twelve — a passable timewaster that began as a separate script, had Ocean’s characters shoehorned in and felt that way.
The crew’s vibe of charitable generosity runs deep here, perhaps a subtle response from Soderbergh to critique of these films as larks rubbed in the faces of have-nots. Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but acknowledging that service employees and factory workers make casinos tick — and factoring them into the plan — adds a welcome wrinkle in the pressed-suit professionalism on display.
The first caper was for love. The second was for honor. This one’s for friendship, as Ocean and the crew avenge entrepreneurial cohort Reuben Tishkoff’s (Elliott Gould) gypping of profit from a new casino-hotel by the reptilian Willy Bank (Al Pacino).
Every word from Bank drips with disingenuousness, and it’s Pacino’s best villain role since Dick Tracy. Allowed to look every one of his 67 years, Pacino sports ridiculous hair highlights and Soderbergh’s direction toward a quieter menace.
On opening night, Ocean’s crew will rig craps, blackjack and roulette tables, along with slots, in a 210-second window to pay out $500 million and put Bank in bad with investors. Thankfully, the plan’s intricacy ensures each of the crew has an integral role this time.
Abiding by the idea of an unwritten code among those who’ve shaken Frank Sinatra’s hand, these two films represented the equivalent of an assured, all-business clasp.