Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 film “Ocean’s Eleven” is one of the greatest heist films of all time. With a stellar cast, fantastic story, great comedic moments and a unique visual style, the film delivers all you would want in a heist comedy and a little extra as well.
The main draw of the film, from a box-office perspective at the time, was its ensemble cast. Nowadays, stellar ensembles are quite common, but back in the day, they were much more rare. The original “Ocean’s Eleven” (1960) had rare billing of three huge stars: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Thus the 2001 film, based off of the 1960 movie, yearned to boast such a cast. With the billing of George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, the film was more than successful in doing so. That list doesn’t even include the other famous actors part of the cast, such as Don Cheadle, Elliot Gould, Casey Affleck, Bernie Mac and Carl Reiner, to name a few more.
While such casts are great, many films with such large, star-studded ensembles can feel forced and unnatural, relying too much on their big names rather than their characters. That is not at all the case for “Ocean’s Eleven.” This film’s cast brings their A-games to the picture, bringing their characters to life while also clearly having a good time with the ensemble. The group conversations are some of the best scenes in the whole picture, as the entire cast has strong chemistry with each other. The key duo in this picture, though, is Pitt and Clooney. Clooney and Pitt’s chemistry is through the roof in this picture, delivering several comedic moments extremely effectively due to their on-screen cohesion.
What also makes this movie great is its style. We discussed in last week’s column the rhythmic style of Edgar Wright’s direction in the action-comedy “Hot Fuzz.” Steven Soderbergh’s direction in “Ocean’s Eleven” is quite similar, delivering several montage sequences with a fantastic rhythm and beat. This direction and cinematography ties directly with the film’s tone, also not taking itself too seriously. With its fast pace and well-executed comedic moments, this movie’s style and tone elevates the picture above your typical heist movie.
That all being said, it is the heist that makes the heist movie, and “Ocean’s Eleven” delivers on that front. The structure is simple; the first act sets up the characters’ situations, the second act sets up the heist and the third act is how it all plays out. This structure is perfect for the genre, giving us proper set up of what the characters need to do in order to accomplish their task. This makes the audience feel as if they are a part of the heist, as the various planning scenes help properly explain what will happen in the third act and we know all the things that may go awry when that comes. Because of this great set up, the heist portion of the movie is incredibly well-executed.
Keep in mind that this is a heist comedy. If you are looking for a grounded, ultra-realistic heist movie, this isn’t the one for you. This is one of the most fun movies of the 21st century because of its ensemble cast’s chemistry, great comedic moments, fast-paced rhythmic visual style and great plot structure. Because of that, I can most definitely call “Ocean’s Eleven” a fantastic film.
Where to Find “Ocean’s Eleven”: Streaming on Netflix