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Empire List #500: Ocean's Eleven

The early 2000’s were exciting times to say the least. Terrorist attacks, war, and fear spreading faster than you can say Y2K. Luckily for moviegoers, by the end of 2001 we could all relax and watch one of the coolest cast ever assemble rob a Las Vegas casino in Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” number 500 on Empire magazine’s 500 Greatest Movies of all Times list.

I watched the first instalment of the Ocean trilogy in theatres with my brother and our friend Louise in Santiago, Chile. If I recall well, my brother and I were still living in Lima, Peru, but we were visiting Louise whose parents had moved to Chile. The time might have actually been early 2002 since the release dates for American movies are not the same in South America.

The other thing about mainstream movies shot in English but released in a Spanish market is the fact that you get to see George Clooney explaining how he will rob millions from Andy Garcia with Spanish subtitles. It’s actually a pretty good way to learn a new language. You hear the dialogue in a language you understand, and you see the words scrolling on screen in Spanish. It wasn’t the first time I saw a movie like this so by then I was pretty used to it.

Now as to the actual movie, I enjoyed it a lot, but that first time I was slightly surprised by what I saw as a lack of action. The trailer had given me the impression that there would be a scene where Matt Damon presses a button and the safe explodes. As it turns out, those two scenes are completely separate. It was a different safe and it was actually Don Cheadle who presses the button.

The fact is that this movie has a very relaxed tone, which in retrospect is not a bad thing. By relaxed I mean that things don’t happen in maximum overdrive and the action is not exaggerated for entertainment. When Eddie Jamison blows up a decoy van, only the inside explodes and the henchmen standing around it don’t get hurt. There was no need for a giant fireball, since these are professional thieves who have carefully thought out plan and a tight schedule.

Apart from the actual heist one of the most enjoyable things about a heist film is when the crew assembles. George Clooney plays Danny Ocean, a thief wishes to steal $150 million from casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) and at the same time get back his girlfriend Tess (Julia Roberts) who is dating Benedict. To do this he recruits Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), his former partner, Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), an inside man who works as a card dealer, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould), a rich rival of Benedict who bankrolls the operation, Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle), an explosive’s expert, and Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), a rookie pickpocket.

Also on the list are Scott Caan and Casey Affleck who play the Malloy brothers, two getaway drivers from Utah. Back then I had no clue who these two guys were, but over time both of these actors have added great roles to their resume, especially Affleck who was great in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Carl Reiner, whose career started way before my time, plays retired thief Saul Bloom. I am still not familiar with his work, but I have seen him on a few good TV shows (House, 2008). Eddie Jamison plays Livingston Dell, the surveillance expert, who has mostly worked on TV and had small roles in a few other movies. As for Shaobo Qin who plays acrobat “The Amazing” Yen, I haven’t seen him in any other movie than the Ocean trilogy.   

As for the actual heist, it was like watching a magic trick for the first time. As a member of the audience you do not know what cards these performers have up their sleeves, so you don’t know how the money will leave the casino. Seeing it again I could most likely see flaws in the plan, but who cares? It’s all about the beauty of the plan’s execution.

After the movie we went to my friend Louise’s house and did what most people usually do after watching a movie: talk about what they liked about. Louise explained her opinion best when she said: “It was O.K. Brad Pitt was SO HOT!” I guess the film’s producer’s were counting on that reaction from female audiences.  

Someone mentioned that it was actually a remake of a movie starring Frank Sinatra and I incorrectly said that the movie was called “The Rat Pack,” when in fact The Rat Pack was the name given to Sinatra and his friends at the time. Since then I have tried to further educate myself in terms of movie history in order to avoid small mistakes like that. 


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