[Movie Review] Ocean's Eleven

Ocean's ElevenStarring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 12
Released: 2001

We love throwing out the phrase “ensemble cast”. It gives you this great feeling of value for money if you go and see a movie with an ensemble cast. It normally means that you will see a picture with more than one or two significant, recognizable characters. Director, Steven Soderbergh, has used an ensemble cast before, namely in his Oscar winning movie, “Traffic”. In his remake of the 1960s Rat-pack crime movie “Oceans Eleven”, he brings an ensemble cast to the screen once again.

Danny Ocean (Clooney – “Solaris”, “Welcome to Collingwood”, “The Perfect Storm”) has been released from a New Jersey prison ready to abide by his parole terms and become a good citizen. For about fifteen minutes. He tracks down his old crime buddy Rusty Ryan (Pitt – “Troy”, “Spy Game”, “The Mexican”, “Snatch”) in California, and asks him to join him on the biggest heist ever – three casinos in Las Vegas. Not just any old casinos though – the MGM Grand, Bellagio and Mirage – all owned by the extremely slick Terry Benedict (Garcia – “Desperate Measures”, “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead”, “Accidental Hero”).

To pull such a job, Ryan and Ocean work out that they will need eleven guys in total. Amongst them are croupier Frank (Bernie Mac), experienced conman Saul (Carl Reiner), a Chinese acrobat (Shaobo Qin), computer guru brothers Virgil and Turk (Casey Affleck and Scott Caen) and sly pickpocket, Linus (Damon – “The Bourne Identity”, “Jersey Girl”, “Finding Forrester”, “Good Will Hunting”).#

Financially backed by the self-motivated Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould – “American History X”, “The Big Hit”), the entourage make their way to Las Vegas and begin the planning of the elaborate crime. And everything goes to plan until Rusty happens to see a beautiful lady called Tess (Roberts – “Erin Brockovich”, “Runaway Bride”, “Michael Collins”, “Notting Hill”) in the casino. Now he’s worried?

Yes, it is an ensemble cast. And I haven’t even mentioned the un-credited Don Cheadle.

Steven Soderbergh has taken on a moderately-received Frank Sinatra vehicle from 1960 and turned it in to one of the more enjoyable Hollywood romps in recent years. Criticism is hard to level at any part of the movie. From the excellent cast, albeit with a rather bland turn from Brad Pitt, to the witty script and dialogue, to the genuinely exciting plot progression, “Oceans Eleven” remains addictive viewing right to the end.

The casting is excellent. Clooney once again pulls out a great performance as the charismatic conman who manages to somehow keep control of his motley crew. Carl Reiner amuses, Cheadle is hilarious, Damon does his job well and Garcia is thankfully used sparingly but to good effect. There’s little depth to the characters save for the obvious, black and white presentation of Ocean and Benedict.

Ocean is the typical fraudster who lies, cheats and steals his way through life but in the main is a good guy who will look out for you. Benedict is sleazy, slimy and money-grabbing despite his misleading “sharp-dressed man” appearance. Who are you going to cheer for?

Soderbergh has calmed down on the irritating symbolism that raped his 2000 movie “Traffic”. He goes straightforward here save for the odd split screen. And it works brilliantly. The movie bristles along at break-neck speed so even the duller scenes don’t hang around for long and there’s no narrative slowing down the pace.

The plot is somewhat contrived and unlikely with some rather convenient situations unraveling to help the great plan unfold. You can’t imagine anyone being able to plan a robbery to the extent that Ocean has managed to. But even so, suspension of disbelief can be applied and all is well.

With a sequel on the way (“Oceans Twelve”…ahem), one might shuffle uncomfortably but if Soderbergh repeats the formula and introduces a character with a new dynamic, we could be in for another winner.

As it is “Oceans Eleven” is unmissable Hollywood fare.



[Movie Review] Secret Window

Secret WindowStarring: Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton, Charles Dutton
Director: David Koepp
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 15
Released: 2004

If, after watching “Secret Window”, someone asked you to offer a guess as to the writer of the novel the movie is based on, you would be hard pressed not to hazard a guess at Stephen King. Just check out this plot.

Mort Rainey (Depp – “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Blow”, “From Hell”, “Chocolat”) is a writer who isolates himself after discovering his wife, Amy (Bello – “Duets”, “Coyote Ugly”, “Payback”), is having an affair with Ted (Hutton – “The Generals Daughter”, “Beautiful Girls”, “French Kiss”, “The Dark Half”). During a severe bout of writers block, Rainey is visited by a Southern strangers called John Shooter (Turturro – “Mr Deeds”, “Collateral Damage”, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, “The Big Lebowski”). Shooter accuses Rainey of stealing his story, dumping a copy on his doorstep before he leaves. When Rainey reads it, he discovers that it is almost identical to his old story, “Secret Window”. As Shooter turns up the heat on Rainey, he finds himself embroiled in a battle of wits that threatens him and the lives of those around him.

I’m not that into the whole Stephen King bandwagon as it is. I’ve read, or attempted to read, four to five of his books and with the exception of “The Shawshank Redempion”, I’ve never been particularly entertained. Watching the movies that have come from his stories, many of them carry similar characteristics from one to the next – the troubled writer, the mysterious stranger, the quirky sherrif, the battle between “right” and “wrong”.

So it was with a weary eye that I viewed “Secret Window”. First off Johnny Depp is a perfect piece of casting. Fresh from his brilliantly bizzare turn as Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean”, he gives a well hammed-up turn as dead-end writer, Mort. There is no issue being on his side in his battle with Shooter (a role played in his sleep by the always-entertaining Turturro), despite the suspicion that he might indeed have plagerised the stranger’s story.

As the story unravles, we begin to learn more about Mort’s personal circumstances and the little details that may in fact cast a shadow on his integrity. The other characters are not that well developed but despite their involvement you don’t always get the feeling they need to be.

I supose when it comes down to it, the question is, does “Secret Window” surprise, twist and entertain?

To some degree, yes. This isn’t “twist-a-minute” and the mystery is not mind-bending in a “Memento” type way. But it does wheel along quite smoothly until the well constructed finale.

The script is decent although probably benefits from some ad-libbing from Depp, and it is directed with tension-building camera angles and movement at times, but struggles with a slow-building story.

Overall “Secret Window” could have been another “Dreamcatcher” but it keeps its head above water and is a good way to spend ninety minutes.