Jaq's Review: Ocean's Thirteen - A Love Song to Old Vegas
by Jaq Greenspon
June 24, 2007
I've said it before and I'll say it again… George Clooney is the Dean Martin of this generation. He defines cool - women want to go to bed with him, guys want to play poker with him. And neither side cares about the other. This is why he's the perfect Danny Ocean, regardless of the fact it was Sinatra who played him in the original. See, the thing is, Sinatra is beyond cool. He is legend. He is icon. Martin, though, he's a real flesh and blood man. He's human, with flaws and foibles. And Clooney is his heir apparent.
Especially in this film, where Sinatra, specifically shaking hands with Ol' Blue Eyes, is the impetus for all the action. And there is a lot of action in Ocean's Thirteen, second sequel to 2001's remake Ocean's Eleven. The plot is simple: Ocean and his band of misfits, conmen, and swindlers have to take out the newest casino in Las Vegas and again, it's personal. This time, the owner of the Bank casino, Willie Bank (played with scene-chomping goodness by Al Pacino) has betrayed his former partner, Ocean' mentor Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould). This betrayal causes Reuben to have a heart attack and that puts Danny on the offensive. The rest of the gang (there's twelve others, including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Eddie Jemison) all has ideas on ways to get even, but Ocean offers Bank a final reprieve, a chance to make it right. Why? Because Bank once shook hands with Sinatra and that means something. Naturally, Bank refuses and we're off and running.
The team starts to work and that is when our fun begins. Steven Soderbergh, the director of all three films, is very hit or miss and this is a definite hit. The film looks beautiful and the effects, while subtle, are spectacular. He sets a style tone early on and holds it tightly throughout.
Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the writers behind Rounders and the ESPN Poker series Tilt, bring that same sense of excitement to this film. While the action is never too far ahead of us, it doesn't matter. This is like riding a roller-coaster you've been on a dozen times before: just because you know where the drops and curves are, doesn't make them any less thrilling. The script is tailored for the stars, letting them all have their fun. They all get to play multiple roles, wear fake noses and mustaches, and generally have themselves a blast. Koppelman and Levien up the odds a little bit, giving us glimpses at the lives of the characters outside their cons, to the point of having long lost relatives show up in person.
The other addition these two bring to the franchise is a heart and nostalgia for the ever-changing face of Sin City. As a Las Vegas resident, I have seen this town grow and change, not always for the best, and this film, in an homage to its roots, acknowledges what once was while rejoicing in what is. In addition to recreating the Rat Pack feel, this film is crafted as a love letter to the Las Vegas of old, the Vegas where entertainment was king, where breaking the bank was a possibility and where you could rub elbows with Dean Martin, who would come out after his set and deal Black Jack for a couple of hours, just to keep his hands in the game. At the same time, while it gets us reminiscing about days gone by, it also gives us the opportunity to fall in love with the high stakes, high tech, big action world of today's Vegas. Both have something to offer us if we're ready to explore, and if we're smart, we'll let Clooney lead the way.