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Ocean's Thirteen and the "Enormity of Success"

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • 2007 6 Jun
  • COMMENTS
<i>Ocean's Thirteen</i>  and the "Enormity of Success"

DVD Release Date:  November 13, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: June 8, 2007
Rating: PG-13 (for brief sensuality)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 122 min.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Actors: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Matt Damon, Ellen Barkin, Elliot Gould, Carl Reiner, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, David Paymer

During Ocean’s Thirteen—the follow-up to Ocean’s Twelve, which was a sequel to Ocean’s Eleven, which itself was a remake of a 1960 Rat Pack movie—a character congratulates hotel owner Willie Bank (Al Pacino) on “the enormity of [his] success.”

It’s not clear whether the screenwriters intentionally misused the word “enormity,” which, in today’s English, is unfortunately substituted all too often for “enormousness,” rather than conveying the word’s proper definition, according to the American Heritage Dictionary: “excessive wickedness or outrageousness,” or secondarily, “a monstrous offense or evil; an outrage.” But it’s instructive to ponder the idea, as properly defined, of “the enormity of success.” Can someone succeed in an outrageous manner?

Director Steven Soderbergh surely has. The filmmaker exploded on the film scene with Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989 before pursuing a narrow artistic vision for smaller and smaller audiences during most of the 1990s. (Has anyone see Soderbergh’s Schizopolis?). He roared back in 2000 with Traffic, which garnered both critical and commercial interest, and won Soderbergh a Best Director Oscar (he also was nominated separately that year for directing Erin Brockovich.)

What lessons had the chastened but still passionately idiosyncratic director learned from numerous independent failures? Would he go the commercial route, resorting to big-budget films with tight studio control, or revert to the more personal cinema with much narrower appeal? He decided to alternate one with the other.

In 2001, Soderbergh made Ocean’s Eleven—a box-office bonanza that cemented his reputation as an adept handler of big movie stars and big budgets. The ticket sales for the first Ocean’s film helped Soderbergh make the little-seen Full Frontal, while his work on Ocean’s Twelve helped set up the experimental Bubble.

The director’s plan appears to be working out. He’s able to pull major dollars for the Ocean’s films (although his high-profile Solaris and The Good German both failed), and still pursue less commercial work. So the strategy is paying off for the director, but is it working as well for viewers? Or has Soderbergh come to exemplify the “enormity of success”?

The director’s latest film is not “a monstrous offense or evil,” but it is disappointing. An outrage? Not really, but that’s the disappointing aspect of Ocean’s Thirteen: It’s hard to care about it much at all.

George Clooney returns as Danny Ocean, who gathers his gang of crooks together once more, this time to avenge a wrong done to one of the original eleven. Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould) has been outfoxed by Bank, a business partner known for taking advantage his closest friends. With their new hotel/casino about to open in Las Vegas, Bank cuts Reuben out of the action completely, leaving him traumatized and bed-ridden.

It’s up to the Ocean’s gang to get even with Bank. They hatch a plot to drain Bank’s new casino of winnings on its opening night, and to deny him the coveted Five Diamond rating earned by his other hotels.

Back in action are Rusty (Brad Pitt), Linus (Matt Damon), Basher (Don Cheadle), Saul (Carl Reiner) and Virgil (Casey Affleck), who carry out a complex plan involving specially manufactured dice, pseudo earthquakes, false diamonds, a fake nose and some bad hairpieces. Ocean brings the plan to fruition with the financial assistance of Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who demands Bank’s diamonds in return. The diamond snatching plot pits Linus against Bank’s savviest employee, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin), who, with a little chemical assistance, finds herself unable to keep her hands off Linus.

Financial ruin is only part of Ocean’s scheme. He ensures that the hotel evaluator responsible for Bank’s sought after Five Diamond rating is made physically miserable for much of the pic’s running time.

Ocean’s Thirteen, like its predecessors, moves briskly for a while, but movie-star magnetism that made the earlier chapters watchable grows thin in Thirteen, leaving the film in neutral as it draws to a grand finale, and the accumulation of scenes involving people walking and talking to each other begins to take a toll.

That these slickly made films would prove so entertaining to so many, while being so inconsequential, is a little disturbing. We’re supposed to root for these attractive movie stars as they commit wrongdoing, even though wrong has been done to them. But that’s not the biblical prescription for such behavior. “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else” (1 Thessalonians 5:15), and “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic” (Luke 6:29).

Despite a few nice moments and performers who clearly are having fun with these roles, Ocean’s Thirteen teaches us nothing and leaves us no better off than before we watched it. It’s a diversion that takes us down the wrong path.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; multiple profanities.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Drinking and smoking.
  • Sex/Nudity: Female hotel employees are instructed to raise their skirts a few inches; a woman’s dress reveals cleavage; an unseen substance makes a female hotel employee sex-crazed; some sexual banter; kissing.
  • Violence: Pervasive crime, pitting one type of criminal against another; a labor strike includes the lighting and throwing of Molotov cocktails and high-powered hoses turned upon rioters, but these scenes are supposed to be amusing.
  • Illness: A hotel guest is deliberately sickened and given a bug-infested room, causing him to vomit, break out in a rash, and suffer in other visible ways.