In 2001, director Steven Soderbergh brought us the re-imagining of the Rat Pack classic “Ocean’s Eleven”, and then in 2004, he followed it up with the not nearly as entertaining sequel “Ocean’s Twelve”. Three years later Soderbergh, and most of his original cast from the previous two films, returned one more time for “Ocean’s Thirteen”. For a franchise that has seen one great movie and one not-so great in its franchise’s relatively short existence, one must wonder how the third effort will turn out. Will “Ocean’s Thirteen” bring back the fun and excitement of the first film, or continue to falter under its own self-importance as “Ocean’s Twelve” did?
“Ocean’s Thirteen” begins with a member of Danny’s crew being swindled out of a share of profits in a new Las Vegas hotel by a nefarious businessman named Willy Bank (Al Pacino). Now, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and company want retribution for their deceived comrade, but to succeed they will have to pull off their most daring job yet.
Screenwriting duo Brian Koppelman and David Levien (“Knockaround Guys”) bring back to the “Ocean’s” franchise something that had been sorely missed in its second outing… all of the fun. This time around, not only is the script much more in the vein of the first film, but the entertainment value is nearly as high as it was the first go-round. With the clever comebacks, the wit, and an overall feel good atmosphere, none of which ever decreased the interesting and entertaining nature of “Ocean’s Eleven”, this latest installment brings the series back from the doldrums that ensnared it throughout the lesser-entertaining “Ocean’s Twelve”.
While the fun of the series has been revived that is not to say that this movie is lacking in any sort of drama. The story for “Ocean’s Thirteen” is the most intimate the series has ever been. By placing the Ocean’s crew in a position where one of theirs has been wronged and thus their newest job is driven purely by retribution from the get-go creates a fresh, new twist for what could have been an all-too familiar tale. One other aspect of this film’s story that one will notice when watching the movie is that there appears to be a sense of finality to the series’ various character arcs. I have heard that this is intended to be the final film in the franchise, at least with this cast, and if so, I appreciate the efforts made in the screenplay to bring resolution to not only the characters, but also the various plot threads that have existed since the first film. If this is indeed the final chapter for Danny Ocean and his crew, then this was a very satisfying and enjoyable ending to the series.
Reprising their roles from the previous two films are essentially everybody that we have become familiar with since 2001; however, Julia Roberts and previous newcomer Catherine Zeta-Jones are noticeably absent from the proceedings. Aside from those two missing assets, everyone else is back, and arguably better than ever. I was especially pleased to discover that the fast-paced repartee amongst the characters, primarily between Danny (George Clooney) and Rusty (Brad Pitt), was back in full force, and just as fluid and smartly crafted as before.
From my perspective as a fan of the series, despite the low point of “Ocean’s Twelve”, one of the highlights in the cast has remained Matt Damon’s character of Linus. Damon’s portrayal of Linus has evolved naturally over the course of the previous two films, culminating in this one with the audience finally getting to see Linus in a capacity that rivals Danny or Rusty in terms of respect, usefulness, and skill. Another highlight of the cast would be Carl Reiner who had been somewhat under-utilized in the previous two films; this time around he is given much more to do with his character. His comedic timing and immersion into the character is great, and he proves that even at his age he can easily keep up with his much younger co-stars.
Of course, when discussing the cast of “Ocean’s Thirteen” one would be remiss not to mention the terrific performances from the two newcomers to the series, Al Pacino (“The Godfather”) and Ellen Barkin (“Sea of Love”). These two enduring talents are extremely fun to watch in this film as both clearly appear to be enjoying themselves on camera. Ellen Barkin is perfect in the role of the seductive assistant to Al’s Willy Bank character. Ellen takes a character that should have been a fairly one-dimensional role and turned her into a complex, modern woman who is nearly as ruthless as her boss.
However, it was Al Pacino’s performance that was the most surprising to me. I know it sounds strange to say that Al Pacino gave a surprising performance, I mean let’s face it the guy is a legend, but it’s because of how low-key he was in this role when compared to some of his work from the last 10 to 15 years that I can say that. Here’s an actor that has become heavily parodied by today’s comedians because of his penchant for yelling his lines at random, and yet, in this film I can hardly recall a single instance where he really cut loose with the volume. Along with his reserved performance, Pacino delivers a character in Willy Bank that is so slimy, distrustful, and utterly narcissistic that you instantly hate him, but at the same time there’s something about the role that is flat-out entertaining. Honestly, Al’s portrayal of Willy Bank in “Ocean’s Thirteen” is some of the best work he’s done of late and is vastly superior to his less-than-stellar performances in “Righteous Kill” and “88 Minutes”.
“Ocean’s Thirteen” is an incredibly fun heist movie that brings the trilogy full circle, wrapping up the various threads in a very satisfying manner. Although not quite as good as the first film in the series, “Thirteen” is a very close second and more than makes up for the shortcomings of its predecessor.
“Ocean’s Thirteen” is rated PG-13 for language.