Rolling an impossible thirteen with two dice already on the table, Ocean’s Thirteen, Steven Soderbergh’s practically critic-proof third entry into the Ocean’s canon of heist movies marks a return to both the form of the original film and its Las Vegas setting.
The sequel, Ocean’s Twelve, sprawled in terms of narrative and location and felt diluted and lacking because of it. In the one true City of Sin it’s effortless; each member of this eclectic team of thieves distinguishing himself wonderfully, especially the talented Affleck whose comfortable, playful banter with Caan is like sparring sessions ahead of the main event: Clooney and Pitt.
Say what you want about these two, they’re practically Hollywood gentry. They’re stylish; they lounge like the most consummate lizards. When they’re on-screen it feels like you’re watching rehearsals, never sure which lines are improvised. We don’t flow into their scenes; we break in, the punch line to some fabulous joke just delivered; the opening frustratingly out of reach. What seems extraneous is actually the main pleasure of the film. It’s narrative as play, and all the more pleasingly audacious for it, making plot twists or surprises as inconsequential as the dust flicked from a swinger’s lapel.
It’s ephemeral, a taste of the fun these actors must be having behind the scenes, but we’re not talking base MTV reality here, this is drunken nostalgia for the old players of Vegas. As the leads emulate Sinatra and Martin like never before, they, along with the double-crossed Reuben, the catalyst of the plot, represent the old moral code of Vegas, facing down the perversion of Vegas’s fine history by the vulgar Willie Banks and his prestige without style industry. It’s almost ironic that the usually boorish Pacino pulls off an almost subdued turn as the aforementioned Banks.
It’s touches like this that belie the sly undercurrent to the film as Soderbergh reminds us why he can be such a deft director. Intertwined with the raucous narrative is a scathing look at the distribution of wealth, as dice are manufactured for nothing by oppressed Mexicans and rolled on Banks’ crap tables for everything. Masking a message that money is both power and poison with comedy.
And it’s not just in narrative and theme that Soderbergh shines. Through a clever use of montage, split screen, and floating camera that flits on the edges of the action, he creates an intoxicating pulse, almost funk rhythm that melds perfectly with the tonal shifts of colour, moving from subtle, almost chilly hues of blue and grey to the rich reds, and golds of the strip. It’s aesthetic as play, and it’s this approach, taking his arty, loose filmmaking style and blending it with the warmth of mass entertainment that makes this film such an audacious hit.
However, as Willie Banks might say: tread carefully Mr. Ocean, audacity can only take you so far. Coast on that alone and I can assure you there’s a fair few million who won’t be betting on you next go around.