Monday, June 06, 2005

"Ocean's Twelve" Acts Eight

Ocean's Twelve. 2004. Dir. Steven Soderbergh. Perf. George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vincent Cassel, Andy Garcia, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Carl Riner, Eddie Jemison, Elliott Gould.

Sequels generally fall short of their cinematographic predecessors, yet although Ocean's Twelve is no exception to this rule, it maintains a decent plot, cast of characters, and several good themes throughout. The story picks up a few years after the end of Ocean's Eleven, with the jealous Terry Benedict (Garcia) determined to make life pain for the eleven men who once robbed his casinos. Ocean's gang has, in the meantime, moved on; most are pursuing new and legitimate lives, careers, and even domestics; the news that they must suddenly repay their enormous debt is shocking and painful. Eventually they end up in Amsterdam, where their larcenies are balanced out by jealous ex-girlfriends, the European network of thieves, Linus' parents, and one particularly forceful rival thief who is determined to shame their attempts.

The cast of Ocean's Twelve, like that of its predecessor, boasts some astonishingly talented actors and also some who are painfully overbilled. Although all of the Twelve are strong actors and very fun to watch, the film, like its predecessor, focuses more on Daniel Ocean (Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Pitt). Pitt's inability to act as any character other than himself, no matter the demands of the role, is overshadowed, for once, by Julia Roberts, who actually has the opportunity to play herself during the film and, unsurprisingly, offers no distinctions between herself playing Tess Ocean and herself playing herself. However, the problem here lies less with the abundance of superstars and more with Soderbergh's failure to use the numerous other skilled actors and characters available for development and sub-plots. When Linus Caldwell (Damon) begs Rusty for the chance to play a more "central role" the second time around, one has the impression that he refers not merely to the task at hand, but also to his position within the script, and it is a line that could be easily (and perhaps more accurately) argued by several other characters as well.

The film editing was strong but not spectatcular; the music was vibrant and carefully blended to make a very sleek film technically, and overall, the movie had a level of polish and completeness that is a joy to find in a sequel. The addition of a new villain (Cassel), and one so carefully added and motivated, could only benefit the plot; the addition of an interesting complication (Zeta-Jones) on the side of the law gave the script a beautiful sense of life. Truth is stranger than fiction, yet this film pushed and probed at that adage brilliantly. Cassel, in particular, playing the intrigiuing Francois Tolour, took a complex character and made him startlingly believable and frighteningly likeable.

Fans of the first film should assuredly see this sequel; the rest of the world should rent both the same night and watch them together. Although it is possible to see Twelve without Eleven, the connections between the films are strong, and the first film really provides the main foundation for the next. Although the films are not the height of film achievements, they are unified, fun, and strong enough in every way that they will probably and hopefully become classics.

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