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Hi! We’re Mark and Nitish, and we (like most of you we hope) are practicing social distancing to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. We recognize that this is a super stressful time for a lot of people and that many of you are being harmed by the virus in one way or another. So, we thought we’d do something that would hopefully lighten the mood. We are going to be watching and reviewing movies available on streaming platforms. Our column will be published every Wednesday and Friday, and we plan on reviewing one movie per day. That makes things easier for us procrastinators! We hope that you can watch along, send us your thoughts and recommend movies that you like or want us to watch. Best of luck to all of you in these trying times!
“Ocean’s Eleven” (Released in 2001; watched by us on Nov. 11 2020)
A heist thriller by Steven Soderbergh. We watched it on Netflix!
Today, dear reader, I am again catching up on the cinema classics I had before neglected. This time, we have watched the ultimate heist thriller, “Ocean’s Eleven,” and I must say, this flick stole my heart.
Hm… note to self: rewrite that last sentence. It was not good.
“Ocean’s Eleven” primarily follows master thief, Danny Ocean, and his partner in crime, Rusty Ryan, as they attempt to do the impossible: steal from one of the most tightly secured — and dangerous — casinos in Vegas. The duo recruit an ensemble cast of nine other specialists, including but not limited to: Frank Catton, a casino worker with insider knowledge; Basher Tarr, an explosives expert; “Yen,” an acrobat; and Linus Caldwell, a young and hot-headed pickpocket. However, as Ocean’s team of 11 plans the ultimate heist, it becomes clear that this is not just about the money. To Ocean, this mission is personal.
There is a lot to love about “Ocean’s Eleven.”
There is a lot to this movie in general.
For starters, there are at least 11 leads to keep track of, not including the movie’s villain: the brutal and murderous casino owner, Terry Benedict. There are a lot of tricks and traps waiting in the casino too, each requiring their own convoluted solutions and resources to deal with. I was expecting a movie… instead, I’ve found myself refereeing a high-intensity match of 5D Chess, having to watch all its moving pieces. I admit, I’ve had to consult the Wikipedia summary to keep track of everything in this review, and clearly even they had left some stuff out.
Some might consider this a flaw. Not only is the poor, innocent first-time viewer bound to be confused, but the viewer is essentially forced to sort of accept the occasional convenient solution when it is revealed that the characters know more than the audience. Presumably, this is for the sanity of the filmmakers, as having to clearly establish each and every gear and pulley would have made “Ocean’s Eleven” an Odyssey-length epic. This results in a movie that moves too fast for me, a normie deprived of the intellectual vitality required to understand this flick.
But, I am completely fine with that. So be it that the heist flick lacks the slow, methodological pace to create more informed moments of audience realization, or the thorough examination of each and every piece of the puzzle. That is what the mystery genre is for, and we already have plenty of those. That one “Rick and Morty” episode I half-paid attention to in the airplane eight months ago had told me exactly what to expect out of “Ocean’s Eleven.” It is a relentless flurry of twists, turns and high-IQ plays. This movie has all the spectacle of a Bond flick, all the fun of a classic Spielberg adventure and all the cunning of the average game of “Among Us” (bite me, I have the right to be mainstream once in a while).
You will not get everything at first, and that is alright. When one boards a roller-coaster they do not have to understand all the mechanics and physics that makes it — they just need to strap in and enjoy the ride. I’ve heard some say that the heist genre is convoluted and formulaic, but I’d advise the reader against being that jerkwad who tries to explain every trick at a magic show. It is an experience worthwhile in itself to just enjoy the madness.
Everyone loves “Ocean’s Eleven,” and it’s honestly hard not to enjoy it. Granted, Soderbergh probably has nightmares about the Bechdel test, but aside from the fact that the one named woman who isn’t a sex worker is little more than a trophy to be passed between protagonist and antagonist, this movie is pretty solid. Lots of people think that this movie is good because of its meticulous plotting or its clever heisting. Neither of these things are true. “Ocean’s Eleven” is a treat primarily because it’s an opportunity to watch George Clooney and Brad Pitt charismatically wield sharp dialogue like they’re in a back-alley knife fight in an Indonesian martial arts movie. “Ocean’s Eleven” doesn’t actually have the meticulous plotting that it claims to. But that’s okay!
It’s not solid because of the plot. Mark says that “Ocean’s Eleven” has all the cunning of the average game of “Among Us,” and that’s true but only because the vast majority of people who play “Among Us” are dumbasses who couldn’t lie their way into the Trump administration’s recount team if their lives depended on it. (Seriously Mark, have you played this game? There are no Borgias or Bismarcks here, everyone is dumb.) There’s a twist halfway into the movie where a character gets “pulled off the job” because of some inane romantic subplot — see the trophy thing from earlier — and then he’s put back. Key members of the team aren’t informed about it because… reasons? There’s a pretty elegant reveal at the end, but like a gourmet doughnut, beneath the sprinkles and maple syrup, there’s a gaping hole — there’s no way for them to get the decoy material into the vault. (If you don’t care for spoilers, check it out.) And the timing of the last reveal, if you bother to put some thought into it, is absolutely absurd. Problems are handled with convenient deus-ex-machina devices — two guards with Uzis are brought down with a little metal frisbee. And most infuriating of all, they manage to create an opening in the security network by setting off an electromagnetic pulse device in Las Vegas. A device they stole from Caltech. Forget escaping a vengeful casino owner, they have to worry about escaping the entire U.S. government who might be a tiny bit ticked off that someone managed to steal a weapon that could be used to decimate an entire city in a heartbeat. For all the discussion about the tight security, it gets lax whenever the plot requires it: How did Clooney get into the elevator? How on earth did he get back? How come the guard outside the room didn’t hear him catching up with Bruiser like he was an old friend? There are a ton of little lies and deceptions in this movie, but the biggest and most effective one of all comes from Soderbergh: This heist plot isn’t remotely plausible.
But, dear reader, I admit I didn’t notice any of this flimsy plot the first time I watched this movie. And that’s because, as I said earlier, Clooney and Pitt kill this script. They’re both naturally charismatic actors, and they just dial it to an 11 here. (Get it? The name of the movie is “Ocean’s Eleven!” It’s a double entendre!) The script has a ton of sharp one-liners, plenty of great bits of dialogue. Soderbergh’s framing of shots is sharp and smart. It’s just a blast to watch because of it. You should watch it, too.
And I think the ultimate takeaway from “Ocean’s Eleven” is that a heist movie doesn’t need to have a meticulously thought out plot that takes into account every point of failure. It just needs to seem like it has. And if I’m being honest, that earlier paragraph with a rant about how this movie doesn’t add up is just me being annoying. Because unless you’re taking notes, you probably won’t catch any of them. Even if you do, you’ll probably believe George Clooney when he says that he planned for it. So go ahead and watch “Ocean’s Eleven.” And after you watch it the first time, take a second run-through like I did and see if you can count the ways the plot breaks down, and let me know about the stuff I missed!
Contact Mark York at mdyorkjr ‘at’ stanford.edu and Nitish Vaidyanathan at nitishv ‘at’ stanford.edu.