My personal dislike for the latter-day efforts of director Steven Soderbergh comes from a part of me that can’t shake the feeling that his stories are often empty. A burst of interest in Contagion (for obvious reasons), led me to the conclusion that he can certainly make some interesting premises but following through on those ideas to create interesting conclusions or depth is something I don’t believe his direction can bring. Ocean’s Eleven is perhaps his most famous piece of work, and if not it’s by far his most famous trilogy (solely because this is his only trilogy). Although littered with the tropes that I dislike from his direction, I find Ocean’s Eleven to be a completely amicable heist movie.
It’s not perfect, far from it in fact. The various subplots that linger in the background of a conventional and engaging heist story drag the film through the wringer more often than not. Julia Roberts’ inclusion as Tessa Ocean, for instance, provides the film with an inevitable romantic angle. Providing some motivation for Clooney’s turn as Danny Ocean, the scenes he and Roberts share with one another are cliché and interspersed almost at random throughout the film. Feeling more and more like it was stapled onto the film for no other reason than to give it a larger, familiar happy ending, the subplot does much more harm than good in this instance.
As far as the heist goes though, there’s no denying how engaging and enjoyable it is. Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon alongside a whole host of recognisable faces make up a formidable cast that bring the best they can offer to the table. The stand-out for me was Carl Reiner, who gives a solid supporting performance as one of the Ocean’s team, Saul Bloom. Perhaps it’s since his role seems the most fleshed out among the layers of the ensemble cast, or maybe it’s due to how great of an actor he is on the whole. Either way, he finds himself sharing a comfortable few scenes with Pitt and shines through as a strenuously important performer.
The same can be said for most of the cast, who make the most of the sometimes-limited time they find themselves with. Casey Affleck and Elliot Gould, in particular, feel rather left out at times. They’re in the background, meddling and conniving away. In the early stages of the film, it looks as if Soderbergh is building them up as pivotal characters, fleshing them out as essential members of a team with a rich and interesting backstory. Nothing ever comes of these establishing scenes, and they soon fall in line for the George Clooney show. It’s a stroke of luck then that Clooney gives a great leading performance. His starring role certainly makes up for Don Cheadle’s cockney accent anyway.
Ocean’s Eleven is a film so engaged with its performances, it’s just a sad shame none of them are all that fleshed out. A jigsaw puzzle missing half of the pieces, Soderbergh provides elements that could be expanded on or put to further use. He gets in the way of his own vision at times, and the redeeming quality of the heist itself musters up enough energy to salvage the film. Ocean’s Eleven could do with some fixes here or there, but there’s no denying its enjoyable, care-free sensibility and its easy to access narrative.