Judge Ryan Keefer knows when to double down and knows when the house is on a bad draw. That's REALLY about all his gambling vernacular allows.
Our reviews of Ocean's Eleven (published May 7th, 2002), Ocean's Thirteen (published November 13th, 2007), Ocean's Thirteen (Blu-Ray) (published November 23rd, 2007), Ocean's Thirteen (HD DVD And DVD Combo) (published December 13th, 2007), Ocean's Trilogy (HD DVD) (published February 9th, 2008), and Ocean's Twelve (published April 25th, 2005) are also available.
There's so much going on in and around Las Vegas in these three films, you'll want to upholster your home in green felt when you're done.
The franchise of films featuring the ex-con Danny Ocean has grossed over $400 million in domestic box office receipts alone, and has served as a collective respite for some of its harder working stars while bringing its less familiar faces some additional visibility. The films had all been released on standard definition previously, but all three are now on high definition for the first time. So now that they are all here together, do they break the bank?
Facts of the Case
I will attack the films chronologically because well, you kind of have to. The first film is less of a remake and more of a tribute to the 1960 Vegas heist film with the Sinatra, Martin, and Davis Rat Pack. The heists in the three new Ocean's films get bigger and more audacious of course, so it's really more about the way everyone gets to the heist. All three films were directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic), but Ocean's Eleven was written by Ted Griffin (Rumor Has It…). A casino owner named Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia, Internal Affairs) has taken over Las Vegas and is demolishing some of the older palaces in Sin City, and recent parolee Danny Ocean (George Clooney, Syriana) is upset by this, along with the added motivation of Benedict stealing his ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts, Flatliners). Clooney employs a veritable cavalcade of thieves talented in various areas. You've got longtime friend Rusty (Brad Pitt, Troy), rarely without a drink or food in his hand. Reuben (Elliott Gould, Bugsy) provides the finances. Then there's Frank (Bernie Mac, Friday), the qualified casino dealer. Virgil (Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone) and Turk Malloy (Scott Caan, Into the Blue) are a little bit crazy but are wizards with remote control cars and can help in other roles in a pinch. Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison, Bruce Almighty) provides the electronics whiz/computer geek point of view, while Basher (Don Cheadle, Talk to Me) provides the demolition. Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner, Summer School) is the master of disguise, while Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon, The Departed) is the master pickpocket. How many is that, ten? Well, Shaobo Qin is Yen, the man who can get into just about anything and is a master acrobat and contortionist. Together they try to steal $150 million from three casinos on the night of a heavyweight title bout.
Well, the robbery must have gone well, because there was a second film, right? Well George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum) brought in a script that seemed to agree with all involved. Flash forward a couple years down the road, and the crew has split into separate directions. However, Benedict has found everyone and is politely asking for his money back, plus interest, and gives them two weeks to do it. So Danny and Rusty get everyone back together and find out that almost all of them have spent a good chunk of the money, so they have to start robbing again to pay Benedict back. As the casino heists were so high profile, they have to travel to Europe to pull off jobs, not to mention trying to find out who ratted them out, which actually is some blueblood named Francois Toulour (Vincent Cassel, Eastern Promises). When they find out that Toulour did it, he offers Ocean a proposition, as he fancies himself as a thief as well: whoever steals a rare Faberge egg from a Paris museum will have to pay Benedict or come up with a way to do it.
But wait, it gets even better! The script to Thirteen was written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Walking Tall), and the gang reunites one more time to enact revenge on a casino magnate named Willie Bank (Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman), who double-crossed Reuben on the money and control of the opening of a new casino. This time the mission, should they choose to accept it, is to rig the casino's machines, dice tables, you name it, so that everyone wins on the casino's first night and bankrupts Bank in the process.
When you look at any of the three Ocean's films, you know what to expect, and I've alluded to this before in my review of Thirteen. You're looking for an elaborate, suspenseful, and perhaps most importantly, successful heist of a large amount of cash or some rare collector's item of sorts. Within the course of all three films, that's all you really need to know, and the facts remain that quite a lot of people flocked to these films knowing what they would be getting into. That's in part because of the charisma of the cast and what they did to help pull it off. However, a large part of the way the films look and how they're told remains with Soderbergh and how he was able to add a distinguishable style to all the films, either in the appearance and shooting (he did shoot them all under the pseudonym Peter Andrews). Or maybe it's David Holmes' score, which he did for all three films. Either way, the result is a trilogy of films that have fun with the material, themselves, and each other. If you're looking for two hours of pure entertainment, the Ocean's films fit the bill.
The Ocean's trilogy is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to technical merits. All three films use the VC-1 codec and all appear in 2.40:1 widescreen, but the first one looks quite good, with a nice balance between the lighting and the fleshtones in the feature without a lot of oversaturation. Blacks are pretty deep as well though not entirely consistent. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track doesn't really do a lot of surrounding, with little speaker panning and occasional subwoofer activity during the last act of the film. But at least the extras on the first Ocean's Eleven disc are holdovers from the standard definition version, starting with two commentary tracks. The first includes Pitt, Damon and Garcia, and apparently according to Damon, I'm one of the "five people listening to this." Pitt clearly is the one who pokes the most fun at things on the track, with Damon being a little more reserved and Garcia bringing in the old school '70s flavor, mentioning old films with Gould and Dave Brubeck. The group adoration makes it sound like "the Chris Farley show," despite what Damon thinks, but it's fairly enjoyable. The second track with Soderbergh and Griffin is a little more reserved and dry when it comes to humor, but they also discuss recollections on set and how some shots were set up, and along with talking about the technical aspect from time to time, and is worth listening to for the technical part of things. The only other extra to speak of, aside from the trailer and two teasers, is the HBO "First Look" piece with interviews from the cast and crew and why they wanted to be a part of the project. A second piece titled "The Look of the Con" is about ten minutes and discusses the challenges of getting the right wardrobe on so many sexy men.
Quite frankly, I liked the look of Twelve, despite the fact that there was a lot of source noise and flesh tones that looked somewhat pale. In many scenes, the picture is pretty sharp and in others you can see quite a bit of detail, like at the funeral sequence where Rusty is watching Isabel for the first time in awhile. And the shots at the Italy estate with Toulour are breathtaking. I'm not saying that this is the best of the three, but it's definitely above Thirteen, which I'll get to in a second. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is a step down from Eleven and might be the worst of the three, with directional effects at a minimum and even less subwoofer usage. It's more focused on dialogue and score and feels a bit wasted.
On the flip side though, there are some extras on the disc that were lacking from the previous standard definition version, starting with a commentary from Soderbergh and Nolfi. This was apparently recorded sometime during the pre-production of Thirteen, which means it was done long after Twelve had been released, so each has a nice perspective on things. Soderbergh brings the technical information again, but also discusses what he wanted to do that was different from the first, and they discuss the challenges of filming it abroad. The villa in Lake Como, Italy where Toulour resides actually belonged to the late Luchino Visconti, which was an interesting piece of trivia, and they also defend the use of Julia. It's another solid track. The HBO "First Look" piece makes its return and features more of the same in terms of interviews, and introduces the new people, all the while with Pitt making a joke or two. Almost thirty minutes of deleted scenes are next, most of which are pretty bland, with the exception of an alternate opening that puts Pitt and Isabel's meeting at the top of the film, and includes some funny footage of Linus practicing to be Danny. In addition, Ellen Barkin (Sea of Love), who played Bank's assistant in Thirteen, appears in a different role in Twelve, so that's nice to see, but overall, there's not too much that's missed here. The trailer completes things.
For a film like Ocean's Thirteen to look like it does really is disappointing. The disc presents blacks that aren't all that deep, and flesh tones that perversely sport an orange hue, particularly in the case of Pacino. Compared to the first film, this one is loads of source noise and not a lot of clarity. There is quite a bit of detail in the image, however this is somewhat erratic over the film's two hours and not really worth marveling at. In the audio department, while there's no lossless soundtrack to enjoy, the Dolby Digital 5.1 option shows off the score rather well, and is somewhat immersive without disappearing into anonymity.
Extras wise, Ocean's Thirteen has a commentary track with Soderbergh, Koppelman, and Levien, and it's very jovial. Soderbergh's sense of humor is pretty dry throughout the track, and Koppelman and Levien feed to that a bit as well. But when it ventures into seriousness, the writers ask the director about his process and thoughts on the shoot, and Soderbergh possesses a good recollection of the production as well. Sure, the commentary may just be for "very bored people," as one of them says, but they're a fun listen and I'd listen to them again, assuming the trilogy turns into a quadrilogy. The other HD exclusive extra is an intriguing piece titled "Masters of the Heist." It's about forty five minutes and talks about some of the more notable heists in memory. The first segment covers Charles Ponzi and the Ponzi "pyramid scheme" of the 1920s. The second segment focuses on a group of MIT students who periodically hit the blackjack tables at the casino. It wouldn't be such a big deal if they weren't able to count cards efficiently and develop a system to maximize winnings as a result. The process on how to count is talked about, and their system is revealed as well. Segment three is on Doris Payne, a longtime con woman who has been able to lift rings valued in the tens of thousands of dollars, many times right under a jewelry store clerk's nose. The final segment is on a multi-million dollar heist of Rembrandt and other highly prized artwork in Boston in the early '90s. The piece is quite interesting and well worth checking out. The piece that focuses on Las Vegas, entitled "An Opulent Illusion," sounds like it's narrated by Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs), and seems like twenty minute Chamber of Commerce plug, which isn't really necessary for that city. Next up, Jerry Weintraub, producer of all three films (and who also appeared as Denny Shields), walks through the casino set for a couple of minutes, and aside from four deleted scenes that don't really add anything to the film, the film's trailer is the only other extra to be had.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Allow me to try and defend Twelve for a second. Sure, the twist ending combined with the Toulour break-in are admittedly a little bit self-indulgent, but on the flip side, they've also got a few cleverly executed heists peppered throughout the film. More importantly though, the films are also about fun, and that's the element that I think might have been lost in the second film, and the reason why this middle installment seemed to split a lot of people down the middle. But I think that Twelve works for me within the particular aspect of the Ocean's trilogy: it's harmless and fun, just like the other films, and the fact that you've got two thieves working against one another is a nice little twist that, perhaps if told a little better, would have been more appreciated.
Looking at all three standard definition discs side by side, the audio and video on Blu-ray are a slight upgrade, plus the fact that there are some extras on Twelve was both a nice surprise and a pleasant thought from Warner. Consider this a lukewarm recommendation to double-dip more than anything else.
Can you split a blackjack hand three ways? Really? How about Tai Gow Poker?
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Scales of Justice, Ocean's Eleven
Perp Profile, Ocean's Eleven
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Ocean's Eleven
• Audio Commentary with Director Steven Soderbergh and Writer Ted Griffin
Scales of Justice, Ocean's Twelve
Perp Profile, Ocean's Twelve
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Ocean's Twelve
• Commentary by Director Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriter George Nolfi
Scales of Justice, Ocean's Thirteen
Perp Profile, Ocean's Thirteen
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Ocean's Thirteen
• Commentary with Director Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien
• IMDb: Ocean's Eleven
Review content copyright © 2008 Ryan Keefer; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.