Ocean’s Eleven

Ocean's Eleven. Dorchester 1960.
Ocean’s Eleven. Warner Brothers Pictures 1960.

Before watching the movie:

Well, Christmas is over. Hope everybody got their Christmas paraphernalia put away and locked up by 12:01 AM on the 26th.

So, this is probably the quintessential heist movie. Even though I’ve seen it (or rather, the remake and its sequels) parodied endlessly, the main thing I’m curious about is whether this is a romp or a drama. Not that humor and suspense are incompatible.

I wouldn’t be surprised when I get to the remake to find that this movie has better chemistry than the new one, since I’m pretty sure this includes the entire Rat Pack. I don’t think I’ve seen any Rat Pack films before, but I know their reputation.

After watching the movie:

Danny Ocean has a problem, and a plan. He needs money, but he’s got wartime friends and military training. Rounding up his entire squadron, he lays out a plan with clockwork precision to rob five casinos at once on New Year’s Eve, with just eleven men altogether. It’s just a matter of getting them all back together. Sure, Danny’s ex-wife and mistress are fighting over him, and their electrician has Chekhov’s Chest Aneurysm, and one guy’s stepfather-to-be has connections among the casino owners, but really, what could go wrong?

One thing I was struck by (aside from the size of Sammy Davis Jr.’s mouth)  is how much the movie’s humor comes out of the subtle interactions, the chemistry between the actors. It’s a large ensemble, but everybody gets their moments, even if only a few stand out. I was expecting good chemistry, but I wasn’t expecting it to be the biggest draw of the film. The heist itself is audacious, but not as interesting as the characters.

I was also surprised by how little I actually knew about the plot. The remake is what all the parodies are from, and it seems to bear little resemblance past “a guy named Danny Ocean puts together a team of eleven people to pull off a Vegas robbery”. (Fun fact: the first Danny Ocean movie I ever noticed was Ocean’s Twelve. It still sounds better to me than Eleven or Thirteen.) I was expecting the emphasis to be on the execution of the heist, but most of the movie is team assembly and trying to get the money safely out of Vegas. I admit that the remake might be structured more like this and the parodies just focus on the “good bit”.

One thing that bothered me is that for the first half of the movie, it doesn’t seem like Ocean himself is the leader. He may be the guy with the battle plan, but I got the impression that the core “turn military skills into the perfect robbery” idea came from some of the other characters, and Ocean was just the one who schemed up the practicality. Maybe it will be clearer on a second watch.

I also wonder what the logistics of using real casinos was. On the one hand, it’s publicity. On the other, it’s publicizing that these casinos are vulnerable to devastating robbery. I think the good publicity won out though, at least with me. I’m interested in visiting some of them now, and I know the difference between fiction and reality.

 

Watch this movie: to see a bunch of pals working together.

Don’t watch this movie: for a glitzy flim-flam heist.

 

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