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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 and critically. 

           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.

See Ocean’s 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.

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