After the tired Mametisms of Heist and the dopey repartee of The Score, Ocean’s Eleven must count as a breath of fresh air. So suave it seems to operate on autopilot, Steven Soderbergh’s latest wisely tones down the action for its megastar crew: George Clooney’s parolee mastermind Danny Ocean, Brad Pitt’s pin-up card-shark Rusty, Matt Damon’s new kid on the block, Don Cheadle’s Brit explosives expert, and Carl Reiner’s stoic father figure Saul. The vault of Las Vegas’s Bellagio casino contains Ocean’s $160 million booty though the trophy de resistance is his ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts), now shacking up with the casino’s owner, Terry Benedict (a wonderfully restrained Andy Garcia). Soderbergh directs his heist with workmanlike precision and gives equal cred to all supporting players involved. Ocean’s hip posse is collected for business; each member’s role in the operation becomes a delicate composite of a seemingly foolproof master plan. The robbery is typically predicated on all sorts of costume-changes and role-playing yet Soderbergh successfully underplays everything from the proverbial double-crossing to the inevitable return-to-love. The film’s jokes may be classy but they work best served ridiculous (a flashback sequence pays hysterical homage to a series of failed Vegas robberies). Chaos comes via a grandiose citywide blackout that initiates Harry’s downfall, stunningly staged as a virtual slow waltz. Soderbergh is so cool he can make anything go down like fine wine, even a perfunctory Rat Pack crime caper.
There’s hardly anything nicer to look at than a Soderbergh film. Warner Home Video presents Ocean’s Eleven in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2:35:1, delicately preserving Soderbergh’s own silky smooth camerawork. Though the film’s lighting is inconsistent at times, the transfer is top-notch. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a bit underwhelming though that seems to have more to do with the restraint of the film’s actual sound design than Warner’s DVD mix.
The Look of the Con is an awesome reminder of just how difficult it is to dress a roomful of Hollywood stars and maintain the authenticity of the director’s visual palette. Kudos to costume designer Jeffrey Kurland for knowing his color schemes. HBO’s First Look Special on the making of the film is most notable for how smoothly and efficiently it’s edited; it’s certainly one of the punchier making-of featurettes. Most notable are the disc’s two feature-length audio commentaries, one with Soderbergh and screenwriter Ted Griffin and a second one with stars Matt Damon, Andy Garcia and Brad Pitt. Despite some tedious dry spells, the latter is considerably more fun if only because it reveals Damon’s playful humility. He initially approaches the recording as if he were on MST3000 only to start giving props to fellow actors (mainly Topher Grace) who got short-shafted in the press during the film’s theatrical run. The Soderbergh/Griffin commentary track is interesting in that the director liberally reveals his disappointment with many of his lighting choices. Griffin, though, is the better guide, exposing nuanced story details you might have missed the first time around. Unfortunately, the track is a bit of a tease. The pair never reveal what was inside the film’s sliding metal discs. They remain mum because it’s a PG-13 DVD. My guess: anthrax. Also included here are filmographies, theatrical trailers and a very interactive DVD-ROM most notable for its Are You In or Out? game. And while the Ocean’s Eleven disc cleverly incorporates gambling motifs into its interactive menus, what’s with the cover art? At the very least, Warner could have left the film’s original poster artwork on this widescreen edition of the film and left the existing cover art for the always-unnecessary fullscreen edition.
A DVD package as smooth as the film it preserves. Buy some wine, a nice suit and a ticket to Vegas.