Posts Tagged ‘George Clooney’

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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