No, now look I'm sorry ...

Film In a summer of bloated blockbusters and hardly enticing torture horrors, I haven't been to the cinema much, preferring instead to catch up on all the films I missed in the first seventy-five years of cinema history when I hadn't been born yet. What thirties films lacked in budget they made up for with invention, tight scripts with incisive characterisation.

Largely my abstinance has been critic and word of mouth led with the new Pirates and Spiderman films apparently being particularly avoidable. By rights, I should have missed out Ocean's Thirteen too, but having been the only person who seemed to think Ocean's Twelve a work of genius (outside of the people who made it) I couldn't pass up the chance to fly against the critical tide again.

Ocean's Twelve was roundly regected by critics but the reception for this has been pretty mixed, ranging from Mark Kermode's rant and Peter Bradshaw's one star lambasting in The Guardian to Empire Magazine's four stars. Director Steven Soderbergh's has generally endured this reception of late with writers generally focusing on what a work is not rather than what he's delivered.

Which is a shame because once again, this is an amazing film, ambitious in its narrative, experimental in its use of character, visually and sonically a feast. It's disappointing that even when Soderbergh has succeeded in producing a work of purposeful entertainment and artistic brilliance there's still almost being treated like the hack he certainly isn't.

It's not entirely above reproach. The storyline, another casino heist, does not have the emotional punch of the first and to a degree second films. In addition, anyone paying attention could work out what twists there are in the climax. Although the entire crew is back minus the ladies, not everyone has that much to do with Bernie Mac in particular being particularly hard done by. Now and then it seems just a little bit too pleased with itself, but that smacks of confidence more than anything else.

These do however seem to be effects of parring the story and the requirements of the narrative down to their most basic parts. The film is about the heist and the mechanics of the operation, the opening act of the second film stretched over a couple of hours. It's comedy drama then in its purest form, grabbing the funny where ever possible. It's also clear that Soderbergh and writers Brian Koppelman & David Levien want the audience to be in on those mechanics so that they can feel included rather than excluded from the team.

That means that unlike other sequels which get bogged down in giving everyone their own subplot to keep the stars happy, its able to keep the focus on the goal. In fact, it's quite refreshing to once again see these actors, who've carried films themselves, just popping in for little more than a cameo in order to facilitate a gag. What's wrong with having something that amounts to the Record Breaker's Christmas Special were Roy Castle would be joined by a galaxy of stars during the festive period?

It's one of the first films in years not to waste Al Paccino's devlish personality and here he's in full shit-eating hoo-ahh mode as the villianous casino manager whose at the centre of the trouble. It's equally refreshing to see someone like Ellen Barkin playing this kind of comedy role again. The criticisms were basically in the order of 'How could you treat this older actress in this way, putting her in the sad position of being seduced by this young buck' failing to note how sexy she is and that actually lesser films would have cast a much younger actress in the role.

The young buck by the way is Matt Damon, who I think has finally gotten over the pasting he recieved in Team America: World Police -- in other words I don't have their way of saying his name flashing into my head every time I see him on screen anymore. Everyone in the cast is a natural comedian though, with the double acts of Scott Carn and Casey Affleck, Shaobo Qin and Damon and George Clooney and Brad Pitt all making welcome returns. The latter is perhaps the funniest, time and again the mirth developing from what isn't being said and a mere weary look or tired gesture stealing the show.

Their scenes together are just a couple of the array of very funny moments that litter the film and which, crucially unlike many sequels aren't contingent on you having seen the other two. There are character moments sure with will resonante if you know who they're talking about and why (there are still some hollywood in-jokes which will only work amongst the really clued up amongst us) but in the main the funny is brought without prior knowledge and it's the first time I've laughed out loud at the cinema in ages.

Some complained that in the second film the main gang weren't together nearly enough, blown across the four corners of Europe with the structure of the story being dictated by the scheduling of the cast. If that was still the problem here, it's largely been solved and there's certainly more of a sense of the family again, probably helped by everything taking place in Vegas. Some of my favourite scenes in Twelve were when the cast were in a hotel room or whatever generally improvising with the camera trying to pick up what it can. There's less of that here, with Ocean's team collected across the widescreen in tableau.

In fact, wasn't prepared for how well photographed the piece is, Soderbergh (who operates the camera himself) using a range of pallets, some of which recall the opening film all reds and browns through to other works -- there's even the odd shot which could have dropped in from his low budget experiment Bubble. One amazing shot which pans across a casino floor zooming in and focusing on the faces of each of the team in turn as they communicate to each other with an adjustment of their glasses. There's no doubt that the director is an auteur, all of his films sharing a distinctive look and feel.

The film is also bathed in more of series regular David Holmes music. There's also a pleasing return to the old Hollywood style montage sequences that mix text and images to communicate story points and the passage of time, accompanied by Holmes mix of jazz and blues music. There are moments when the characters return locations from the first film and Holmes quietly underscores the scene with a subtler version of music from Ocean's Eleven, in one scene in particularly almost suggesting a nostalgia for a time when it was easier to see the goal and (without givin too much away) when you knew who your enemies were.

The oddest of the criticism was unsurprisingly from the usually right Mark Kermode who when he wasn't ranting on about the appearance of Julian Sands (who isn't that bad here) took up against the film for being set and about Vegas which he didn't have very many nice things to say about. Whilst its true that this is a pretty good tourist recruitment film for the area, how could this film exist without perpetuating that fantasy? If I was something akin to social realism I'll dodge through a copy of Leaving Las Vegas or Casino(?) or Showgirls(!?!). Some of the most impressive shots are from the sky as we see the new imaginary casino photorealistically inserted into the real Vegas.

The presence of Sands though does indicate one of the more unusual elements of the film, its Britishness. As well as Eddie Izzard there's a startling appearance from Olga Sosnovska who fans of the BBC series Spooks will know as Fiona Carter and is utterly luminous in her small role. Some of the film looks to have been shot in London (and real London not the version that appears in Lost) and there are some unexpected reference to UK pop culture which you can't imagine anyone in the US audience (or anyone else) would get. Perhaps it's as an apology for Don Cheadle's accent which is noticably less mockney this time out but still doesn't sound quite right. Frankly, I'm amazed that his character Basher wasn't outed as being really American, the sound of his voice being an affectation. In Ocean's Fourteen maybe.

Since this has done great business at the box office despite the critics I can't imagine a fourth film hasn't been discussed. Whether the formula can stretch to another installment I'm not sure -- apart from anything else, would all of the cast return? If I had one small criticism, with the exception of Barkin and Sosnovska the film lacked a feminine touch and it would be great to see Roberts and Zeta Jones back next time in bigger roles. There was also an even greater reliance on technology too and perhaps next time the gang could be placed in a position where they have to work completely on their wits to succeed. It'd have to be against a different landscape though. How about Shanghai?


  1. Anonymous8:14 am

    Err, I think you'll find Ellen Barkin is in Ocean's 13

  2. Erk. You're right of course. I somehow knew I'd make that mistake. All corrected.