“Ocean’s Eleven” is a movie that escaped the storytelling perils of the cellphone and surveillance age. Released in 2001, when cellphones were still a luxury and not a technological birthright, the movie oozes with classic Hollywood prestige despite being closer to our current day and age. It’s also a movie inherently built on its actors likability, where fame is far more powerful than storytelling. But most importantly, it features characters who are impossibly cool but still don’t look down on us for not being as smooth. We can comfortably idolize this movie without being sanctimonious.
George Clooney stars as Danny Ocean, a five-star con man who just got out of a four-year stint in the joint. Ocean wants to pull a job against casino magnate Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), robbing $150 million and change from his everything-proof vault. He enlists the help of his trusty associate Rusty (Brad Pitt), up-and-comer thief Linus (Matt Damon) and a slew of other misfits who Benedict could spot a mile away on the Bellagio carpet, if they weren’t so slick together.
But Ocean also has a second itinerary, winning back the heart of his ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts), who is now counting her romantic cards with Benedict instead. Clooney and Roberts’ star power is more pungent than their innate chemistry, but it’s enough to get by.
Really, this is a film whose main dramatic and emotional stakes reveal themselves in the final moment. Until then, we just glide on the silver-tongued short phrases of the casts, and the luscious cinematography and confident direction from Steven Soderbergh. And when we finally understand what has been going on, we feel like we’ve earned a bit of Ocean’s grand prize take.
If any piece of this film we’re missing its impact would be significantly diminished. It’s a two-star movie at a structural level, but with enough members of cast and crew giving 110%, we find ourselves with one of the most entertaining flicks of the early 21st century. “Ocean’s Thirteen” is arguably the stronger film, throwing away the love story for more action and intrigue. But “Ocean’s Eleven” is more memorable, showing just how fun it can be to watch a famous face con another.