Ocean's Thirteen Review

What sets Ocean's Thirteen apart from every other summer blockbuster currently unspooling is that this movie's actually more fun if you bring an attention span to the theater with you. Not that it's a particularly deep piece of work, but it is a pretty damn intricate one — something that's best enjoyed by a viewer who's actively keeping up with it.

This is the third time lovable rogue Danny Ocean and his charming and largely good-looking team of swindlers are on the job for director Steven Soderbergh, and Soderbergh, with screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien (who, as I have been obliged to point out elsewhere, are friends of this reviewer) have cooked up quite a job for them. After the gang's pal and mentor Reuben (Gould) gets business-deal-backstabbed so hard he almost dies, Danny and company need to return to Vegas and get back hard at Willie Bank (Pacino), the egocentric, bad-news Vegas mogul who wielded the veritable knife. Their revenge involves re-gaming, as it were, Bank's newest venture, a spectacularly vulgar (even by Vegas standards) casino called, of course, The Bank. Instead of the house winning, as Vegas rules require, the players win, all of them, with Danny and pals hauling the biggest take. Even if you were only talking standard issue casino security, this seems an impossible dream. But as it happens, Willie's Bank has a new ultra-high-tech system in place that makes the dream even impossible-er.

What this means, among other things, is a movie that has a lot of exposition front-loaded into it. But exposition delivered by smoothies like Clooney and Pitt and sharpies like Mack and Izzard plays better than exposition delivered by more run-of-the-mill performers. Although Soderbergh keeps the surfaces so lively, bathing them in otherworldly color and cutting with such jazzy rhythm that certain details become a pleasure to miss.

And like compulsive stakes-raisers, the filmmakers then throw myriad obstacles in the way of an already elaborate scheme, forcing Ocean and co. to enlist the help of former nemesis Terry Benedict (Garcia of Eleven) and note the shadowy machinations of no-doubt sore master thief Francois Toulour (Vincent Cassel of the much-maligned Twelve).

All these balls stay up in the air as long as they have to without anybody taking the whole thing overly seriously. Indeed, a seduction scene between Damon's Linus (sporting a ridiculous nose and a coiffure possibly inspired by Soderbergh's own look circa Schizopolis) and Bank's "cougar" right-hand-woman Abigail Sponder (Barkin) brings to mind Casino Royale — not the recent Bond comeback but the cartoonish '60s spoof, and not just because it features Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love" from that latter film's soundtrack. Another cartoonish touch arrives in Casey Affleck's Virgil fomenting labor unrest at a Mexican dice-manufacturing plant where he's supposed to be doing nothing more than fixing said dice. These touches go slightly against the grain of the heist movies the filmmakers clearly get off on, but they play pretty well in Ocean's mega/meta world. I can see how those who like less whimsy in their swindles would object. Pacino's Banks is also more understated than I had expected, but it's a wry, shifty turn that I would have liked to have seen more of. But as the caper reaches its conclusion in a swirl of turnabouts and twists — you'll never guess in whose favor all of them go — Thirteen delivers more than enough gaming satisfaction for one such picture.
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