Ocean’s Thirteen – Too Much Like Eleven
By Robert Garver
George Clooney. Brad Pitt. Matt Damon. Don Cheadle.
Bernie Mac. Elliot Gould. Carl Reiner. Scott Caan.
Casey Affleck. Eddie Jemison. Shaobo Qin. They are a collection
of superstars, former superstars, relations to superstars, and hardly-superstars.
Back in 2001, they teamed up to
rob a casino in one of the biggest blockbusters of the year in Ocean’s Eleven. In 2004,
they teamed up again to rob a European casino in Ocean’s Twelve, which was less successful both commercially
Director Steven Soderbergh
knew that if he wanted to recapture the magic of the original film, he would have to go back to the square one (or square
Eleven as it were) for Ocean’s Thirteen. It’s a good idea to stay with what
works, but Soderbergh takes it too far. Instead of taking those elements and adding to them to make an
even more spectacular film, what he does is copies those elements to make basically the same film.
Soderbergh has to do a few things to make Thirteen seem original, so here’s the setup: the
Gould character (the member of the gang who financed the operation in Eleven), took the money he had at the end of
Ocean’s Twelve and went into business with mogul Willie Bank (Al Pacino) on a new casino. Bank
double-crossed him and had him beat up to “persuade” him to sell him his half. Now the rest
of the gang wants revenge. They don’t care about getting rich themselves, they just want to hurt
Bank. They decide that the best way to do this is to rig every game in the casino so the customers win
millions and “break” Bank. They also want to ruin Bank’s reputation as an expert in customer
service, which leads to some of the film’s few funny scenes as they terrorize a poor hotel critic (David Paymer).
One flaw unique to this film is the choice of villain.
In both Ocean’s Eleven and Thirteen, the Ocean’s gang tries to steal from a powerful
casino mogul who just happens to be evil enough for us to root for the thieves. Eleven had Terry
Benedict (Andy Garcia) who was cold, calculating, smooth, and suave. In other words, all kinds of cool.
Thirteen gives us Bank, who is supposedly just as dangerous as Benedict, but without the things that made him cool.
Bank, like all Pacino characters, is prone to throwing hammy hissy fits at a moment’s notice. He
also designs one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen as his hot new gambling resort, so his taste, judgment, and
intelligence are also in question. The character is just hard to take seriously.
But the villain issue is small potatoes compared with Thirteen’s biggest problem: It’s
too much like Eleven. All the trademarks are back, pretty much unaltered. There
are split screens and snappy dialogue, inside men and blackmail, impressive technology and death-defying stunts, not to mention
the way the gang is always in control no matter how sure Bank is that he’s up on them. None of it
is bad, but none of it is original.
Thirteen if you haven’t seen Ocean’s Eleven. Or if you really need a Clooney/Pitt/Damon/Reiner
fix. But don’t see it if you want a change of pace.
Robert Garver is a guest columnist who lives in Palmyra. He
is a junior in the Cinema Studies department at New York University. He spends his weekends working at
the Cinema Center of Palmyra so he can be closer to the movies.