Ocean’s Thirteen – A Review

Ocean’s Thirteen is a movie about how sweet it is to be a movie star.

Is that wrong? Do movies owe us more than star-struck voyeurism? Can a story be told just for the sake of watching thirteen famous people stroll through it?


Consider this: this summer (2007) there will be no less than five major motion pictures released which are (grammar-sticklers avert your delicate gaze…) “three-quels”. This is to say nothing of sequels, pre-quels, re-makes, knock-offs, re-hashes and movies that were just plain bad from the get-go. Hollywood cares bubkes for whether movies have anything new to say (let alone anything worth saying). And this is fine by me. After all, Hollywood is a business-model, not an ideology. So why shouldn’t a studio pay movie stars to make masturbatory movies?

I sound like I’m winding up to be the Martin Luther of the studio-system, but my question is really more of an answer than it is a howl of protest. Ocean’s Thirteen is witty, it’s enjoyable, it’s crammed with more beautiful people than a year’s worth of Vogue and it wants nothing more of its audience than for us to lay back and let the professionals do the work. The plot is the same as the first two Ocean movies: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and the other less famous/used to be famous/friends of Steven Soderbergh/female members of the cast need to steal something, so they do.

Plot, schmot, as the Rabbi would say.

Ocean’s Thirteen isn’t about telling a story, it’s about George Clooney and Brad Pitt dressed as janitors, it’s about Matt Damon wearing a fake nose, it’s about Don Cheadle saying, “I want a comedy-costume too, dammit!” and then him prancing into Al Pacino’s office wearing a star-spangled jumpsuit and a pair false-teeth. It’s the movie equivalent of a “!”. You see it, you smile, you think for a second “does that work?”, and then you move on.

George Clooney doesn’t want you to remember Ocean’s Thirteen forever. And we can cry and say all movies should aspire to something greater than a nice opening weekend, that movies should only use movie stars to get us through the door, not make movie stars the raison d’être for movies, but… Isn’t crying over movies the reason reviewers aren’t the stars?

Part of the fun of Ocean’s Thirteen is knowing that the people who made it care only on a professional-level how it turns out. They have better things to do than worry about plot or whether anything is feasible. And I hear you ask: how is it different then – from Pirates of the Caribbean? Because that movie is made-to-order, a box-ticker, net-profit at its heart. And true, I say. They are alike. As are all sequels. But Ocean’s Thirteen wins because it doesn’t shout at you. It knows you know who Zapata is and that your kid brother doesn’t. It’s not going to raise its voice (and lower its tone) to get the kids interested.

The difference is age, I suppose. Three-quels are fleeting, but star-gazing is timeless.


5 Responses to Ocean’s Thirteen – A Review

  1. RPG says:

    “Plot, schmott,”?!?
    “They have better things to do than worry about plot or whether anything is feasible,” ?!?

    Aren’t movies supposed to consist of stories worth the telling? What purpose do movies serve if not the transmission of quality story? Why even bother going to the cinema just to watch a movie built as a vehicle for wealthy, pretty people to flounce about within their own incestuous, masturbatory fantasy.
    When it comes time to choose—if that’s all that’s on offer I’d rather spend my six quid on some good old-fashioned porn—at least porn serves the purpose it was developed for.


  2. jtatham says:

    RPG – While I agree with you that not all movies should be “vehicles for wealthy, pretty people to flounce about [in]”, surely there’s space for one movie like that now and then? I know Ocean’s Thirteen is a waste of time, I’m just saying it’s a very pleasant waste of time. I can see that it might be aggravating for some viewers to watch Clooney and Co. indulge in being movie stars, but I don’t think movies like Ocean’s Thirteen pose a threat to modern cinema – they simply acknowledge what most movies invent a plot to try to hide: i.e. most movies wouldn’t get made if wealthy, pretty people didn’t agree to flounce about in them. Isn’t the cult of celebrity what Hollywood is built on? It may not be a good thing, but at least movie star-centric movies display the wit that’s always lacking in porn.

  3. Acting Tips says:

    Acting Tips

    Interesting article, Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hedwig says:

    Hey! Just discovered your blog, and I’m greatly enjoying your reviews. I agree completely with your take on Ocean’s Thirteen: it’s nothing, really, a piece of fluff, a simple diversion for the people who made it, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable on that level. Of course this shouldn’t be the only thing movies aspire to be, but every once in a while, just being entertained like this can be refreshing.

    I think the big difference between this and Pirates is that while Pirates was made by people trying to make money, this films was made by people who are simply having fun doing what they do best: for George Clooney that’s being charming, for Don Cheadle it’s being brash and trying on accents, and for Soderbergh it’s putting his camera in unexpected spots, and using outrageous filters nobody else would have. That’s also, I think, why they don’t succumb to the pressure to dumb movies down: they don’t make the movies for the dumbed-down audience, but for themselves.

    Consider yourself bookmarked!


  5. jtatham says:

    Hedwig – Re: your bookmark. The feeling is mutual. I like your take on A Prairie Home Companion. I haven’t seen all Altman’s films, but it’s definitely the raggedy, tender, funny ones that most appeal to me. His masterpieces are good (I’m thinking Short Cuts and McCabe & Mrs Miller) but they’re so clear-eyed about dark aspects of humanity that I find myself longing for the simple warmth you find in his less ambitious movies. Prairie… is a prime example of this everybody-gets-fed style of film-making, doling out pitch-perfect scenes to a supremely lovable ensemble cast. You’re right to say the movie isn’t really about anything, and right to say it doesn’t matter. Cookie’s Fortune has this quality too – like spending time with people you care about. Altman’s raggedy movies make you breathe easier.

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