After the dire second outing in the Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney caper series, it looked rather as if the magic had gone. Not only that, but some began to question the very concept of movies with massive ensemble casts, made up largely of A-list actors. After all, how many massive egos can any screenwriter realistically accommodate while maintaining a coherent and entertaining script?
Of course, the first Ocean’s Eleven film – at least, the first in the Soderbergh series, as it was a remake of a 1960s classic – was a real treat. Though many were wary of the idea of re-doing a film which had epitomised the humour and cool of the infamous Rat Pack, with stars as charismatic as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr in the leads, the gloriously stylish cinematography, wry humour and effortless likeability of the big name leads ensured that the 2001 version swiftly began to come off better in pub debates than the original. In comparison to Soderbergh’s expert directorial eye, the 1960 version began to seem slow and, amazingly, fairly low budget. Clooney even managed to come off well in comparison to Sinatra – and if you can challenge Ol’ Blue Eyes in the cool stakes, you know you’re doing something right.
Sadly, though, Ocean’s Eleven also marked the end of Soderbergh’s incredible run of commercial and critical successes that had begun in 1998 with the Clooney-starring Out of Sight. Having spent most of the 1990s working on low-budget, experimental indie flicks, 1998-2001 saw Soderbergh direct, in swift succession, Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich and Traffic. Four modern classics in four years – not to mention their massive box office takings and numerous awards – is no mean feat. But then came the low-budget Full Frontal, the critically mauled Solaris and Eros, the dire Ocean’s Twelve and the practically unseen Bubble (which has yet to get a UK release), wrapped up with the over-hyped and so ultimately disappointing The Good German. Soderbergh has not had a good last few years as a director.
Thankfully, the tide seems to be turning. Pretty much all involved in Ocean’s Twelve have issued public apologies, and promised to do better next time. Some of the big names – notably Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bruce Willis – have been jettisoned, while the mighty Al Pacino, one of that very rare elite group of actors who has barely ever been seen in a dud movie, has joined the cast as the main villain. New writers have also been added to the mix, while Goerge Clooney – now an established and critically-lauded director in his own right – has come on board as a producer, to ensure that his buddy Soderbergh doesn’t mess up again.
After the annoyingly disappointing Ocean’s Twelve, hopes were never going to be high for Ocean’s Thirteen, which puts it much in the same position as the original film in the franchise, which had the classic 1960s version to contend with. Low expectations are always the best to have when going to see any film, because then you can only be pleasantly surprised – and with this third Danny Ocean flick, you should be. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but then it was never meant to be. It is instead a glossy, stupidly expensive piece of Hollywood escapism, and good fun for it. Don’t expect the genius of Soderbergh’s earlier films and you’ll come away happy.