For the sake of argument, let’s assume you’ve already paid to see “Ocean’s Eleven” (the 2001 re-make) and “Ocean’s Twelve” (the 2004 sequel to the re-make). The movies you haven’t seen are the original “Ocean’s Eleven” from 1960, and this latest installment, “Ocean’s Thirteen.” This makes for a fair fight. Should you pay your money, again, and go for the third installment of the Clooney, Pitt, Damon & the gang sequel to the sequel to the re-make, or maybe go to Blockbuster to rent the original or push it up your Netflix queue and find out what the “Rat Pack” was all about?
The world is awash in reviews for “Ocean’s Thirteen” and stories about the red carpet at Cannes. But I’ll let Matt Damon speak for the intent of the production from an interview he and Clooney and Pitt did for Time magazine. Damon says, “Look, you have us confused with deep thinkers. You’ve already put more thought into why we did the movie than we did.” Back to that in a moment. The least you need to know is this: Danny Ocean is back to sabotage the opening of a new casino being run by Al Pacino so he calls the men back into action.
The Defending Champion
My 15-year-old son, Jared, has never heard of the fact that “Ocean’s Eleven” existed in pre-Clooney days. I tried to explain to him about how the “Rat Pack” made this back in the year of JFK’s election in a time when Las Vegas was just a strip with a few hotels and lots of empty sandlots. I told him that people like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. were just as cool for their time as Clooney, Damon and Pitt are today. Especially this is true of Sinatra who was considered the greatest singer in the universe and had just won an Academy Award for playing Maggio in “From Here to Eternity.” This film, however, is much more specific than the re-make it inspired. For starters, the characters are all paratroopers re-united from World War II, and they all have desires for the money they intend to rob that go beyond being career criminals. They plan to kill the power for the lights during a New Year’s celebration, hit the casinos while it’s dark and make off with the cash in a garbage truck.
It seems clear to me that the modern “Ocean’s” trilogy has gotten worse with each iteration. In “Twelve,” the filmmakers let the inside joke quality get out of hand. In “Thirteen,” they literally seem to have said that the story doesn’t matter at all, that the audience is so conditioned to Suspend All Disbelief that they don’t even have to try to explain anything. That’s why gigantic tunnel machines exist in this film to create earthquakes and the characters just happen to have unrestricted access. It’s why Matt Damon can stick on a stupid nose and some kind of pheremone do-hickey and cause a serious woman with an important job to do to forget all her responsibilities and lust for him as an honest-to-God plot point. All of these insanities (and others) have to occur like clock-work, it seems, or the plan falls apart, but we don’t really quite understand the plan, but it’s obvious we’re not supposed to.
On the other hand, in “Ocean’s Eleven” from that earlier day, we get a film which, admittedly, doesn’t look half as good as these re-makes and sequels. Yet, at its core, it has heart, friendship and even love as part of its spine. It has motivation for characters besides money. It even has a heist that seems just audaciously possible for a bunch of guys who earned their cred fighting Nazis and blowing things up.
As far as charisma goes, however, there’s no doubt that, at the top, it’s a tie. Frank Sinatra may have been the Chairman of the Board, as they liked to call him, but George Clooney is the CEO of Fun. They’re both huge movie stars.
But, as we started out here, the idea was to tell you whether to resist the massive marketing push for “Ocean’s Thirteen” and go back to the source, “Ocean’s Eleven” from 1960. Read on…
I know this is going to be a controversial call but, for me, it’s a stone-cold knockout. Trust me, you’ve seen Clooney, Pitt, Damon and everybody else in the last two films and they’re not much different in the latest. But if you haven’t seen Frank and Dean and Sammy and Peter, then that’s what you owe yourself — get your hands on a DVD and watch the original “Ocean’s Eleven.” Accept no imitations.