Directed by Steven Soderburgh
There has always been something alluring about heist films. Audiences love the elaborate cons, touchy relationships and inevitable duel of wits between cops and robbers. Then, of course, there is the actual heist itself; nontraditional, never small, and always a difficult escapade. Steven Soderburgh knew this when he made 2001ís box office smash, Oceans 11, meshing a great cast, a dysfunctional couple and the high stakes world of Las Vegas casinos with the perfect caper that left audiences clamoring for more. For an encore, Soderburgh has made the subtler, more sophisticated Oceanís 12, pulling off a cinematic miracle high stakes escapism reminiscent of many classic 70s European heist films.
The script, grafted onto Oceanís 12 from George Nolfiís screenplay, Honor Among Thieves, follows all the rules of a great heist film before breaking them. Itís full of crisp dialogue, clever wordplay and lots of nefarious thievery set against a backdrop of the most gorgeous of European locales.
This time around, the game is afoot as he reunites the entire ensemble, pitting the greatest thieves in America against the greatest thief in Europe. The film opens three years after Oceans 11ís last caper, robbing ruthless Vegas casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) of $160 million. Danny Ocean (George Clooney), his wife Tess (Julia Roberts) and the rest of the gang have gone underground, maintaining a low public profile and doing little to arouse suspicion. All of this gets upended when someone violates Rule Number One, ratting out Oceanís crew to a vengeful Benedict who then pops up all over the place threatening to kill them within two weeks if they donít return his money (about $190 million, with interest). With a pressing deadline hanging over their heads, Oceanís crew springs into action.
Realizing that the Bellagio heist made them team too prolific to work in the States, Ocean and his right-hand man Robert Ryan (Brad Pitt) decide their best course of action is to pull a series of quick, high profile jobs in Europe to payoff Benedict. They soon realize that their plan is not as easy at it appears to be when he discovers that Ryan, Europol agent ex, Isabel Lehiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is hot on their trail. From here, things get a little sticky. Isabel, who still hasnít forgiven Ryan for leaving her high and dry, is in the midst of tracking a renowned European thief Francois Toulour, nicknamed the Night Fox (a sly Vincent Cassel) who baffles frustrated detectives with a series of thefts, taunting his victims and boasting of his triumphs along the way. Oceanís 11 discovers this first hand after he outwits the crew when an attempted Amsterdam heist goes awry. This forces a classic battle of wits and sticky fingers, as Danny Ocean must cut the only deal he can to pay off Benedict in a high stakes competition against the Night Fox to settle once and for all who is the better thief. As the competition heats up, Oceanís 12 struggles to stay one step ahead of the law and two steps ahead of the Night Fox. It becomes obvious that Oceanís 11 needs a twelfth member to pull off the con of a lifetime.
Soderburghís greatest strength as a director is letting his actors act. This film, like its predecessor, features outstanding performances from its ensemble cast of big names. George Clooney returns as Danny Ocean, a smarmy yet affable thief looking for a way out. Clooney doesnít mug it up so much here--that duty is handled relish by Brad Pitt, who benefits by having his character rounded out. Julia Roberts, who got somewhat lost in the first film, takes Tess in a new direction, poking fun at her celebrity in the process. But the real winners here are Matt Damon, who, like his character Linus, gets Ďmore to doí assuming a larger role in the operation and Catherine Zeta-Jones who gets to be Ďthee girlí without dumbing herself down. Watching her interplay with Pitt is pure joy.
The public should be warned Oceanís 12 is a completely different movie than Oceanís 11. The comedic nuances and symmetry within the ensemble that engendered the first film with audiences remain, but because the movie is broader and warmer in tone, something has to give, making it the perfect example of having too many cooks spoil the soup. The plot drags in places and never really fleshes itself out. Sorrowfully, it fatally omits meatier bits for Bernie Mac and Don Cheadle and under utilizes the brilliant Elliott Gould.
Nonetheless, Oceanís 12 delivers the basics that all big budget films chocked full of stars should. It entertains and enthralls the audience. This worked with Oceanís 11 and itís also, albeit to a lesser extent, why Oceanís 12 remains the one of the high profile sequel success of the season.