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Posts Tagged ‘Brad Pitt’

There has been some concerned muttering amongst the commentariat of late, brought on by some unusual statistics from the global box office – while this year has indeed seen the most successful movie of all time, attendance in general seems to be on a downward trajectory. People are going to the cinema less, and when they do go, it’s probably to something funded by Disney. Coupled to this is the fact that, of the top twenty films at the US box office so far this year, only two of them have not been a remake, adaptation, or some form of sequel, and barely any of them have been star vehicles in the traditional sense. Perhaps it is the case that the old star system is withering away – I have commented here in the past that while audiences have turned out in droves to the last two or three movies featuring Thor, Chris Hemsworth is not capable of opening a movie playing any other character. Why this should be of genuine concern to anyone other than millionaire movie stars I’m not quite sure, but there you go.

All of this makes James Gray’s Ad Astra more than usually interesting, for it looks very much like an attempt at an old-school big movie – it’s not a sequel, a remake, or an adaptation (though this is a point we shall be returning to), and it’s built around a big star performance from Brad Pitt, a leading man of the old school. (I do recall stories from about fifteen years ago, when Marvel were just setting up their operation, about them hiring big names to play all their characters – Tom Cruise was in talks for Iron Man, Brad Pitt was mentioned as a candidate for Captain America, and so on. Clearly either these guys all asked for too much money or Marvel figured out very early on that the appeal of these films would lie in the characters, not the performers.) Nowadays, as noted, this is noteworthy, and the fact it looks like another attempt at making the ‘proverbial really good science fiction movie’ (S. Kubrick, March 31st 1964) only makes it more interesting to those of us who love the genre.

The movie is set in an unspecified near future (technology has advanced to the point where they can get a spacecraft to the outer planets in well under a year, but Subway are still in business), and Pitt plays top astronaut Roy McBride, renowned for his eerie calm in stressful situations. One of these comes at the top of the film, where a strange power surge results in him falling off what’s essentially an orbital tower and having to keep it together long enough to open his parachute. It turns out there have been a string of such incidents, which the powers that be have determined to be the result of cosmic rays emanating from somewhere in the vicinity of Neptune. It is feared that this is the result of the long-lost Lima project, which was sent to this region to use anti-matter to search for alien intelligences. As Roy’s dad Cliff (Tommy Lee Jones) was in charge of the mission, and is missing presumed dead in space, the authorities have decided it would be a good idea to get Roy to send him a message, presumably in the hope this will make him knock it off with the cosmic rays.

For important and serious plot reasons, Roy has to go to Mars in order to talk into a radio set, and so off he sets, accompanied part of the way by one of his dad’s old colleagues (Donald Sutherland): first to the Moon, then to the red planet itself. Along the way there is a moon buggy chase with laser guns and an encounter with killer baboons (I did wonder what the killer baboons were doing in space, but then I had misheard the name of McBride Sr.’s mission as the Lemur project, and assumed there must be some primate-based connection).

Now, if you’re anything like me, you will probably be thinking something along the lines of: killer baboons? Laser gun moon buggy chases? What kind of movie is this, exactly? Well, quite. The thing about Ad Astra is that it may not actually be a sequel, adaptation, or remake, but it is certainly a highly derivative movie – there’s more than a touch of Apocalypse Now to the structure of the plot, but mostly it draws upon the better space and SF movies of recent years. There’s a lot of Interstellar to this tale of a lengthy voyage in supposedly realistic spacecraft, but also the basic premise and subtext of the movie is that of Gravity, inasmuch as the external adventures undergone by Pitt’s character mirror the way in which he comes to terms with more personal, psychological issues as the story progresses. This makes for a thoughtful, stately, and arguably often portentous movie.

Hence the buggy chase and the baboons, I guess: they have the feel of something inserted, not especially credibly or organically, just to pep the movie up a bit whenever it gets a bit too slow. I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much, as they did jolt me back into paying full attention when I was honestly flagging a bit. We seem to have arrived back at point where new SF films are either good-looking, but entirely cerebral and humourless, or almost wholly camp fantasy; Ad Astra sorely needed to be a bit more fun.

It would be remiss of me not to say that this is still a lavish, very good-looking film, and Brad Pitt gives an excellent, subtle performance that is honestly rather better than the script deserves. The world created by the film doesn’t make a very great deal of sense (as mentioned, it features Subway and laser pistols in close proximity), but it’s not without interest, even if the director’s intentions are occasionally difficult to make out (flying to the Moon is explicitly likened to air travel nowadays, which is an odd approach to a film supposedly about the mystery and wonder of going into space).

In the end the script just isn’t good enough, and the film feels compromised by the need to include obvious action beats to break up Pitt’s introspective monologuing. What was left implicit in Gravity is gone over very heavy-handedly here; there’s a slightly clunky plot device where Pitt has to keep making log entries recording his psychological state, just to facilitate the subtext of the movie. The fact it is also essentially about a troubled father-son relationship also feels like a hoary old chestnut. I mean, fair play to the film-makers for having the guts to make a film like this one, and Pitt carries the movie well. But good intentions alone won’t necessarily carry you very far, let alone to the stars.

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As you may or may not know, I spent most of 2007, 2008, and 2009 in distant foreign countries, pretty much unable to keep up with news (as opposed to today, of course, when I live in the heart of the United Kingdom and actively try to avoid the news). And occasionally, when I would pop home for a visit, this meant that things everyone else took for granted left me completely baffled.

I distinctly recall one conversation, following a series of news reports which left me puzzled. ‘Mother, what’s this credit crunch thing everyone keeps talking about?’

‘Ah, well, yes. It’s about debt. Apparently some banks lent more than they should have and…’ She trailed off. ‘Well, basically it means the economy’s going to collapse.’

‘Oh. What, really?’

‘Yes, it’s to do with… it’s to do with… oh, ask your father.’

I don’t believe I did, though. We consider ourselves so much more developed than our distant ancestors, whose understanding of the forces affecting their lives was supposedly so limited, and yet we blithely wander through life happily conceding that the workings of the global economy – which is really every aspect of every economy, everywhere – are so arcane and complex they’re beyond the ability of normal people to make any sense of. We leave it to the experts, because we believe – and this may largely be the result of the experts themselves telling us so – we have no other option.

Striking a ferocious blow against this orthodoxy is Adam McCay’s The Big Short, a subversive macro-economic comedy drama about the origins of the credit crunch and the financial crisis which we all so casually refer to as though it were an earthquake or a tsunami or some other unavoidable Act of God. It isn’t, it wasn’t, and the film has a damn good try at explaining just why.

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The film opens in the mid-2000s, with the banking sector heavily based around the exploitation of bonds based on the housing market: said market being considered utterly rock-solid, the definition of a safe bet. However, free-thinking hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) actually takes the time to check out the underlying mortgages on which the system is founded, and discovers they are deeply suspect. He predicts that the housing market is going to collapse within the next few years and adopts what, in the eyes of his colleagues and superiors, is an insane strategy Рinvesting money based on the assumption that an economic crash is going to happen.

Word of Burry’s activities reaches a number of other traders, primarily the amoral Jared Vennett (Ryan ‘Goosey Goosey’ Gosling) and the professional skeptic Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and they come to realise that Burry seems to be right – a field trip to Florida reveals it’s quite normal for exotic dancers to have upwards of half a dozen mortgages on a handful properties, all of them dependent on a steady stream of refinancing opportunities to function, with the local mortgage lenders happy to brag about the fact they’ll lend money to anybody, any time, regardless of their ability to pay.

Also catching wind of the unbelievable truth are a couple of neophyte traders (John Magaro and Finn Wittrack) and their veteran mentor (Bradley Pitt), whose investigations lead them to the same conclusions, and the same course: trying to ‘short’ the market by effectively investing in its failure…

On paper, The Big Short looks like a movie with a potential taste/tone problem (well, it looks like a film with a number of potential issues, if we’re honest, but we’ll come back to some of the other ones in a bit). This is basically the story of how a motley crew of weirdos, cynics, whizzkids and chancers made vast quantities of money out of a global disaster – so why are we supposed to care about people who are basically profiteers from misery? Shouldn’t they all just be eminently punchable human beings?

Well, the film dodges this bullet rather adroitly, mainly by stressing the characters’ knowledge of the impending collapse’s implications and their own sense of guilt (Brad Pitt procures for himself the speech which makes the situation painfully clear), and there are a number of scenes showing them attempting to raise the alarm on what’s coming, only to be dismissed out of hand. And it’s hardly as if it’s the characters’ fault.

I suspect that if the makers of The Big Short want you to take one thing away from this film, it’s a deeper understanding of the fact that the financial crisis was not some freak, random event, but the result of systematic greed, corruption, stupidity, and fraud in the banking sector, on an almost inconceivable scale. Tens of millions of people around the world lost their jobs, homes, savings, and, yes, lives – because the financial markets engaged in a profit-obsessed conspiracy of active deception and ostrich-minded wilful ignorance. Across the entire world, one – one! – banker did jail time as a result, for a minor offence. And there is every sign of the whole thing starting to happen again. You should be angrier about this.

At first glance, Adam McCay is a very odd choice for a film like this – McCay is normally associated with rather broader, more populist projects, directing the Anchorman films and being one of the writers on Ant-Man – but closer scrutiny of his CV will reveal the closing credits of 2010’s The Other Guys, at which point a offbeat, knockabout comedy appears to be hijacked by the Occupy movement: a five-minute infographic presentation detailing the costs of economic crime accompanies the names of the cast and crew.

Here, McCay does a fine job of turning what could have been a rather dry and worthy story into something with some life and energy. In addition to extracting winning performances from a strong cast and marshalling a not-especially straightforward story, he gives the film a really subversive, tongue-in-cheek edge. Early on, the number of references to sub-prime mortgages, credit default swaps, and so on, starts to rack up, and Gosling’s narrator correctly guesses the viewer may be beginning to feel a bit confused and/or stupid. Never mind, he says: ‘Here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath.’

And, lo, the rising Antipodean star duly appears, covered in suds, to deliver a quick (and somewhat profane) expository info-dump, direct to camera. It’s a very funny scene and a brilliant conceit, and one which the film repeats several times with different celebrities. (I have to say that I’m still baffled about much of the finer detail, to the point where I’m actually reading the book the film is based on in an attempt to make sense of it all.) The Big Short‘s willingness to break the conventional rules of film storytelling gives it an anarchic feel and a sense of fun that suit its anti-establishment, crowd-pleasing mission statement.

In the end, though, I think The Big Short may prove just a bit too radical to do well in the awards season, considering it’ll be in contention with more traditional pieces of film-making. But in the end, though, I think this isn’t just a good film made with style, but an important one, too, that uncovers a number of uncomfortable truths about the way we live now. Calling it essential viewing is probably overstating things – but not, I would say, by much.

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Not usually a one for war movies, to be honest, and a friend roundly told me off this week for not even having seen Inglourious Basterds (I have been fairly Tarantino-intolerant since about 2004). Then again, the prospect of seeing something which seems to have a genuinely new angle to it, plus some glowing reviews from proper critics, is usually enough to make me consider trotting along to see almost anything. So this week I went along to David Ayer’s Fury.

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Ayer’s movie is set during the death throes of the Second World War, at a time when any potential glamour and nobility the conflict may have had has long since dissipated, and all that remains is a bitter, grubby, futile bloodbath. Brad Pitt plays Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier, a veteran soldier in the US Army, whose experiences across North Africa and Europe have made him a lethally effective tank commander with an obsessive hatred of the Nazis.

As the film opens, Collier’s crew have taken a casualty, and the vacancy is filled by very green new recruit Norman (Logan Lerman), who has been trained as a clerk rather than a tank driver. Most of the first half of the film is devoted to showing us the reality of war through Norman’s eyes, and a horribly grim reality it is too: practically the first job he is assigned is to scrape the remains of his predecessor out of his seat. The rest of the crew have become thoroughly brutalised by their experiences in the war – Fury is not a movie which makes any attempt to depict the American army as in any way heroic. Any German is a potential target, and in some ways the ‘initiation’ Norman receives from his comrades resembles the indoctrination suffered by child soldiers in more recent wars.

At the centre of this is Collier himself, who would no doubt argue that his own safety and that of the rest of the crew depends on Norman’s ability to do what’s necessary in the midst of battle. He is part mentor and part tormentor, slightly more than just another of the damaged bravos he commands. I must confess that in the past I have nearly always seen Brad Pitt as either an identikit leading man or just a pretty boy juvenile lead, but here his performance is genuinely impressive, and worthy of a film in which every moment, line, and shot seems well-judged to convey the sheer awfulness of the subject matter: the characters are in the midst of a pointless slaughter, and one in which they are personally in the most terrible danger. The script spells it out in a number of memorable lines: ‘We’re not here to do good. We’re here to kill Germans,’ Pitt states tersely, near the start, while later he is in a more philosophical mood: ‘Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.’ The Allies may be days away from an historic victory, but the Nazis are putting up a monumental fight, and their own armour massively outclasses the American tanks: one of the little-known historical facts Fury brings to light is that American tank losses outnumbered Nazi ones by a factor of about five, the brutal truth being that they were content to rely on their massive numerical advantage rather than invest in constructing a new main battle tank capable of taking on the German Tigers on an equal footing.

Perhaps bravely, in its first half the film is relatively light on action, choosing to concentrate on establishing the characters and atmosphere. This it does with a journey through a nightmare landscape: mobs of dispossessed civilians roaming fields, hanged ‘traitors’ on every telegraph pole, burning cities in the distance. Things have reached the point where liberated German women offering themselves to American soldiers has become a joyless ritual for both sides, but one which continues to be acted out nevertheless. One of Fury‘s most daring choices is to pause for what feels like ages in a supremely uncomfortable sequence in which Pitt and his men take advantage of the reluctant hospitality of two young German women. The performances of Logan Lerman and the other actors are also excellent, even – perhaps surprisingly – Shia LaBeouf, who has managed to claw second-billing from the more deserving Lerman.

Soon enough, though, Collier and his men are ordered back into action – their mission, to hold a strategic crossroads and protect the flank of the Allied advance on German. However, luck is not on their side, and they find themselves caught in the path of an advancing enemy column which massively outnumbers and outguns them – do they do their duty, or make a pragmatic withdrawal?

There aren’t a great many surprises at this end of the film, but it’s still thoroughly engrossing stuff, with a couple of absolutely exceptional battle scenes – the best of these is a close-quarters encounter between Pitt’s Sherman and a German Tiger, the two tanks almost like roaring, wallowing steel beasts as they desperately struggle to bring their weapons to bear on each other. The combat sequences are gruelling, but also utterly convincing.

Once again, I am a little surprised that Fury has been released as early in the year as it has: this is not just a blood-and-thunder action movie – though it is supremely accomplished in this department – but one which takes pains to work as a serious drama and commentary on the effects of war: somewhere where even victors can also be victims. This is an excellent film.

 

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(New Cinema Review: The Vue near Harrow-on-the-Hill tube station. Considered opinion: not too bad, but not the nicest Vue I’ve been to in the last year by any stretch of the imagination.)

All right, some context: I first heard about Max Brooks’ novel World War Z at some point in 2007, finally got my hands on a copy at the end of that year, and found it to be one of those rare, unputdownably brilliant pieces of writing. I actually gave that original copy away to a friend, I wanted to share the pleasure of reading it so much (this is an almost unheard-of occurrence). And while I was reading it I couldn’t help thinking what a brilliant film it would make, if handled properly – I could imagine how it would play out, pictured the various scenes in my head, and so on, even while realising it would be a ridiculously uncommercial film.

Well, they’ve finally made a movie of World War Z, and it is directed by Marc Forster, possibly best-known for helming the unloved Bond movie Quantum of Solace. It bears very little resemblance to the film which was in my head all those years ago – which is another way of saying it’s nothing like the source novel.

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Bradley Pitt plays Gerald, an ex-UN investigator (you know that ex- isn’t long for this world) who has retired to spend time with his wife (Mireilles Enos) and children. The wife and children have no real personalities beyond being touchingly wan, vulnerable, and worried about him, and they’re only really in the film to provide a plot device and some coarse-grained sentiment.

Another day for Gerald and the family in Phildelphia takes an unfortunate turn when society suddenly falls to a zombie apocalypse, and they find themselves in New Jersey, which is a barren, terrifying wasteland (and the zombie apocalypse has made it even worse). Luckily Gerald’s old boss has them airlifted to a ship in the mid-Atlantic where what’s left of the UN and the armed forces are trying to come up with a response to the crisis.

Needless to say, the UN needs Gerald to investigate the source of the zombie outbreak so they can come up with some sort of solution to the crisis, and if he doesn’t, he and the kids will be thrown to the undead. Needless to say Gerald signs on for this frankly dodgy mission and is soon flying off on a whistle-stop global tour that will take him to destinations as exotic and far-flung as South Korea, Jerusalem, and Cardiff…

Let’s be fair about this: World War Z was always going to be a difficult film to adapt into a conventional narrative. The genius of the novel is to look at the basic idea of a zombie apocalypse in a very rational, comprehensive way – how could a zombie outbreak get started? How would it spread? How would governments and other powerful bodies realistically respond to it? What would the end-game be? (This last is a point most movies are quite vague about.)

The result is a book without a central character or a single plotline, but one which is almost an anthology of accounts of people caught up in the outbreak, from its earliest beginnings, to institutional disbelief and/or exploitation, to gathering panic and chaos, then calamity and retreat and ultimately the fight-back against the putrescent menace. It takes place over a timescale of years, and its conclusion is full of ambiguities and uncertainties.

None of this is in the film. In fact, Forster’s movie isn’t much more of an adaptation of World War Z than any other zombie film from the last decade. There is, to be fair, a reasonably lengthy section set in Israel which does draw heavily from an early section of the book, but this is all. (The whole issue of the origins of the zombie outbreak has been changed, quite probably to avoid offending a large and lucrative foreign market Hollywood studios are desperate to break into.) The rest is very generic big-budget zombie stuff.

It’s not even as if this is a particularly good generic big-budget zombie movie: the CGI-rendered undead megaswarms are admittedly impressive as they swarm up the sides of buildings, but the performance of at least one featured zombie provoked sniggers at the viewing I attended. The performances are a little variable too – Daniella Kertesz is quite good as a soldier who becomes Pitt’s sidekick, but Peter Capaldi is painfully all at sea as a boffin whose scientific speciality appears to be describing in detail what’s happening in front of him and everyone else in the scene, just for the benefit of anyone in the audience who may be a bit slow on the uptake.

Then again, Capaldi is just in the final third of the movie, which was extensively rewritten and reshot for reasons which remain somewhat obscure but were apparently political (again). The ending they have come up with is, to say the least, weak, not to mention cheap-looking given the epic scale of most of the rest of the film. There is a definite sense of ‘is that all?’ come the final credits starting to roll.

I suspect that World War Z, the movie, will be a massive disappointment to anyone who read and loved the book – I can’t imagine a general audience being particularly impressed, either. Still, I suppose that the movie retains just enough of the unique flavour and qualities of the source material to perhaps entice a few of the audience to check it out – which in and of itself is just about enough to justify its existence.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published May 20th 2004. 

One of the benefits of going to a school with a slightly unorthodox curriculum was that in addition to all the usual stuff, like Maths, English, Chemistry and History, for an hour a week we took a class called Classical Studies, in which we learned about things like Greek theatre, the archaeological excavations at Mycenae, the Roman occupation of Britain, and – crucially for this week’s spouting of bias – the particulars of the Trojan Wars. I say ‘benefit’, because I found it all rather fascinating (and it got me a reasonable GCSE), but either the subject matter or the way in which it was taught was enough to give many of my classmates a severe case of Homer phobia. Hopefully this will not deter them from popping along to see Wolfgang Peterson’s epic blockbuster on this subject, Troy.

Based rather loosely on the old legends (Homer himself gets credited as an ‘inspiration’), this is primarily the story of lethal but capricious warrior Achilles (Bradley Pitt), who spends his time variously fighting for or arguing with the ruthless and power-hungry High King of Greece, Agamemnon (Brian Cox). Agamemnon has conquered all of Greece, and now his ambition turns in the direction of the great city of Troy in Asia Minor. He gets his chance when Helen (Diane Kruger), the wife of his brother Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) runs off with visiting Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom), much to the horror of Paris’ brother Hector (Eric Bana). This, Agamemnon thinks, would make a smashing pretext for going to Troy and replacing the existing management. With the aid of the trickster king of Ithaca, Odysseus (Sean Bean), he persuades Achilles to join his cause, and a thousand ships set sail for death and glory…

Now obviously there was always going to be a good deal of snipping and tightening of the story in order for this film not to be even longer than The Lord of the Rings – and so it proves. The siege of Troy, rather than ten years, lasts about a fortnight (and even this time includes a lengthy lay-off for both sides), and the plot and cast list are correspondingly cut down. So, for anyone else who knows the story, there’s no Hecuba, no Cassandra, no Philoctetes, Troilus or Cressida. (But, rather unexpectedly and charmingly, Aeneas does get a single scene.) The overtly mythological elements of the story are almost wholly removed, too, with the exception of a single scene with Achilles’ mother Thetis (whose divinity is not elaborated upon). A shame, but I can understand why – it’s not as if epic fantasy films about huge sieges have set the box office on fire lately, is it?

More importantly, Achilles himself is retooled as a slightly more conventionally heroic figure. He still sulks and thinks of nothing but his own reputation, but instead of the, ahem, traditional Greek practices usually ascribed to him, he gets a girl as a love interest – Trojan priestess Briseis (Rose Byrne – sigh). Pitt certainly looks the part, but never quite brings the character to life – Eric Bana is really much better as his Trojan counterpart. But about half of you will probably be pleased to know Bradley gets his bum out a few times, and the script rewrites the story to a considerable degree to give him the maximum screen time possible.

Of course, the danger with this sort of film is that it will degenerate into a bunch of men in skirts and questionable hairstyles declaiming on battlements to no great effect. The spectre of absurdity swoops over Troy a couple of times, but the film manages to hang in there as a serious drama by, well, taking itself very seriously. The action scenes are top-notch, gritty and bloody, with the CGI (I assume there must have been some) virtually unnoticeable for the most part. Somehow Petersen even manages to get through the scene where Paris picks up a bow and arrow for the first time without a knowing snigger running through the audience.

But more important is the film’s insistence that this was a political war, fought on a pretext by an ambitious and ruthless ruler. The Trojans are (mostly) flawed, but decent and good people – the Greeks are depicted much less flatteringly, Agamemnon and Menelaus in particular. The film isn’t especially subtle about this (or indeed anything else), but it’s enormously refreshing to see a major release drawn in such all-pervading shades of grey. (On the other hand, the film’s total lack of humour or irony might not appeal to many people today – but I hope this isn’t the case.)

To be fair, Troy never quite catches fire and really thrills or moves, but it’s a solid story, well-told for the most part. Some of the exposition is rather clunky – but then again there’s so much back-story that’s probably inevitable – and the climax seems a little bit rushed and perfunctory, but this is a commendable and impressive adaptation of the story. An unusually thoughtful and classy blockbuster – recommended.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published February 21st 2002:

All truly great movie stars have in common a quality of darkness – the ability to suggest that they have had Pasts, and that in them they may have made Dark Choices – and may yet do so again. It adds enormously to the depth and appeal of their performances, even – or especially – when playing a whiter-than-white clean-cut hero. Of the current crop of leading men George Clooney has it more than most and while he’s playing a self-confessed liar and thief in Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Ocean’s Eleven it still gives his performance a vital little edge.

Ocean’s Eleven has a simple story but a complicated plot. Professional criminal Danny Ocean (Clooney) gets out of jail and promptly begins planning the biggest job of his career – the robbery of three Las Vegas casinos owned by Terry Benedict (the welcome return of Andy Garcia to A-list film-making), the man who stole Ocean’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts).

To carry out his audacious raid Ocean assembles a diverse team: amongst them cardsharp Rusty (Brad Pitt), veteran con-man Saul (Carl Reiner), explosives expert Basher (Don Cheadle) and novice pickpocket Linus (Matt Damon). Will the guys succeed in their insanely convoluted scheme? Or will Benedict rumble them and get medieval on their collective asses?

This has all the hallmarks of a Soderbergh picture: quirky, inventive compositions, cool, clean exteriors, and warm, lustrous interiors. Vegas is displayed as a fabulous neon wonderland, and the Nevada tourist board should give the director a hefty tip. The film has a ‘classic’ feel to it as well, in a way it could have been made at any time in the last thirty years – there’s nothing to date the clothes or sets, although Lennox Lewis does appear as himself in a non-speaking cameo role.

Soderbergh gets great performances from his ensemble of actors and they all get at least one big moment. Garcia is ruthless and gimlet-eyed as the bad guy, Elliot Gould has some fun as the guy bankrolling the raid, and even Brad Pitt – an actor I’ve never really warmed to – gives a terrifically neat and droll performance. The only wrong note is struck by Cheadle’s gratuitously Cockney munitions expert, whose accent is pure Dick van Dyke and whose take on rhyming slang is, to say the least, bizarre. But it’s Clooney’s film, and he manages to be arrestingly cool yet engagingly warm throughout.

The plot is mainly concerned with the intricacies of the scheme: first establishing the scale of the challenge and then detailing exactly how the gang try to do it. To me it seemed to owe a lot to the old Mission: Impossible TV series (and indeed at the conclusion Garcia wears the ‘I’ve-been-had’ expression familiar from many a villain off the show), but this sort of caper-plot, when done well, is always satisfying to watch. And it’s done extremely well here.

I was unsure to begin with about the subplot involving Clooney’s attempts to woo Roberts back. Julia Roberts gets very little to do other than stand around looking like Marina off Stingray, and at first I thought Soderbergh was overloading the film to damaging effect. But as the film goes on it becomes clear that this plot element is crucial to its plot, characterisation, and the source of nearly all its genuine emotion.

Every once in a while – not nearly often enough, alas – I sit down to watch a new film and within two minutes become totally assured I’m watching a piece of work of the utmost quality. It happened in Magnolia, it happened in Lord of the Rings, and it happened with Ocean’s Eleven. It’s not deep, it’s not profound, it’s not Great Drama. It’s pure entertainment, but as such it’s virtually flawless. It’s smart, slick, stylish and very, very cool. The best bet for a fun night out at the flicks there’s been for quite a while.

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