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Steven Soderbergh
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, Shaobo Qin, Eddie Jemison, Bernie Mac
Ted Griffin

Are You In Or Out?
Box Office:
Budget $85 million.
Opening weekend $38.107 million on 3075 screens.
Domestic gross $182.91 million.
Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual content.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 117 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 5/7/2002

• Audio commentary With Director Steven Soderbergh and Writer Ted Griffin
• Audio Commentary With Actors Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia
• HBO First Look “The Making of Ocean’s Eleven” Documentary
• “The Look of the Con” Documentary
• Theatrical Trailers
• Cast and Crew
• DVD-ROM Features

Widescreen DVD
Fullscreen DVD
Music soundtrack

Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Ocean's Eleven (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Steven Soderbergh experienced a remarkable year in 2000. He released two films: Erin Brockovich and Traffic. The former took in $125 million and nabbed Julia Roberts an Oscar as Best Actress. The latter made $123 million and also earned a few Oscars: Best Editing (Stephen Mirrione), Best Screenplay - Adapted (Stephen Gaghan), and Best Supporting Actor (Benicio Del Toro). In addition, both flicks scored nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, and Soderbergh went home with the latter trophy for Traffic.

To recap: two box office successes that took home a total of five Oscars, including two of the five most significant awards. So what was the logical next step for Soderbergh? Why, to direct a star-studden caper flick based on a moderately obscure Sixties Rat Pack affair, of course!

Yes folks, that’s sarcasm, for Soderbergh’s choice to remake 1960’s Ocean’s Eleven seemed strange. But I guess Steve knew best. While the new version of Eleven didn’t duplicate the Oscar success of Soderbergh’s 2000 offerings - it failed to snare a single nomination, even - it did prove to be the biggest financial success of the bunch, as it grossed a whopping $183 million in the US.

Considering the level of “A”-list talent in the cast, I suppose that wasn’t all that tough to do, though we should note the number of box office flops in which some of the actors have appeared. Heck, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts bombed with The Mexican in 2001, so Eleven definitely wasn’t a sure thing.

However, the combination of star power and hot director apparently was too much to overcome. It also didn’t hurt that Eleven offered a light and frothy little flick that seemed consistently entertaining.

At the start of the film, we meet its title character, crook Danny Ocean (George Clooney). Paroled from jail in New Jersey, he immediately plans his return to crime, and in a big way: he wants to steal well over $100 million from some Las Vegas casinos. No one ever achieved any sort of haul, much less such a huge one, but Ocean developed a slick plan.

During the first act, we watch Ocean connect with his co-conspirators. Initially he snares right hand man Rusty Ryan (Pitt), and they go to work on the other nine. Piece by piece, they add pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), pyrotechnician Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle), inside man Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), drivers/general nuisances Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk (Scott Caan) Malloy, electronics expert Livingston Dell (Edward Jemison), “grease man” gymnast the Amazing Yen (Shaobo Qin), and retired vet Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), who’ll pretend to be a high roller to get some vault access. Bankrolling the enterprise is former Vegas tycoon Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), a man with a personal connection to the target. The crew want to hit casinos run by jillionaire Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia); he put Tishkoff out of business.

Tishkoff isn’t the only one with personal reasons to go after Benedict. It turns out that Danny’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts) now dates the Vegas bigwig. Danny clearly still pines after her, so it’s obvious this fact plays into his decision to nail Benedict’s funds.

The plot of Eleven remains exceedingly simple. Except for some small detours when Danny connects with Tess, the whole thing revolves around the heist. No other backstory filler or “personal moments” or melodrama; it’s a lean little tale that keeps its focus on the action.

That tightness really helps make Eleven a success. There’s so little filler on display that the film flies by quite rapidly. It careens from situation to situation quickly but not in a gratuitous or rushed manner; Soderbergh simply keeps things going briskly. As such, it seems breezy and taut at the same time.

The killer cast helped. Many films have featured bloated star-studded conglomerations of actors; much of the time, those attempts flop because there’s just not enough room for all those oversized personalities. They’re used to being the main attraction and can’t deal with secondary status.

Amazingly, that doesn’t occur during Eleven. Just like the musicians who recorded “We Are the World” had to “check their egos at the door”, it seems that the many big names of Eleven managed to do the same. It’s a true ensemble piece in which no one steps on or overshadows the others. The actors seem to respect each other, and they interact splendidly. It’s eminently clear they’re having a great time, and that fun tone comes through at all times. (Someone needs to fire Cheadle’s dialect coach, however; he provides the worst British accent on record.)

Some have criticized Eleven because it’s a light flick that never gets serious. These folks miss the point. Eleven works because it’s a light flick that never gets serious. I guess when you win the Oscar for Best Director, you’re supposed to only create deep and meaningful movies with a strong social message - y’know, kinda like Traffic.

I’m glad Soderbergh decided to take it easy. Frankly, I thought Traffic was overrated and not as good as many of his other flicks. Soderbergh seems to work best with lighter material like Out of Sight, which I feel is his best film. That movie topped Eleven just because it provided a stronger sense of relationship and character, and the source material was superior as well; obviously an Elmore Leonard novel beats a second-rate hipster movie from the Sixties.

I can’t directly compare the similarities between the 2001 and 1960 versions of Eleven. Actually, I attempted to watch the latter a few months back, but frankly, I just couldn’t do it. I made it through about 20 minutes and simply never felt interested enough to continue.

Based on what I’ve heard, it seems as though the two flicks share basic plot similarities and a hip tone, but that’s about it. Except for Ocean himself, the characters have different names, backstories and personalities. During the audio commentary, writer Ted Griffin states that he studiously avoided simply rehashing the older film and tried to use it more as an inspiration.

Whether or not the 2001 version explicitly remakes the original, I definitely find it to be more entertaining. Eleven isn’t a film after which you’ll have long discussions with friends, and you won’t ponder it for hours. You’ll watch it, you’ll have a blast, you’ll want to watch it again. I don’t think entertainment for entertainment’s sake is ever a bad thing, but it’s especially wonderful when it’s executed as splendidly as Ocean’s Eleven.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Ocean’s Eleven appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture showed a few tiny concerns, but it seemed to replicate the original material well and it usually provided a solid viewing experience.

Sharpness appeared consistently positive. The image remained nicely distinct and well defined at all times, as I discerned virtually no signs of softness or fuzziness. No jagged edges popped up, but I did see a little shimmer during a couple of shots; those showed via some sports coats and sides of buildings. However, they remained very minor, and I saw no examples of edge enhancement. In regard to print flaws, some light grain appeared due to the photographic design, but otherwise the picture seemed free from defects.

Director Steven Soderbergh usually features very stylized hues, and that occurred during Eleven as well. While not done to the extreme seen in Traffic, the movie did offer broad and vivid colors schemes, and the DVD replicated them well. Soderbergh apparently likes for colors to border on oversaturation, and that happened here. However, the tones remained clear and tight throughout the movie; they just managed to keep from crossing that line.

Finally, black levels looked nicely deep and rich, and even though Soderbergh often favored a “blown out” look, I felt contrast appeared solid and the movie never presented a washed out appearance. Shadow detail was appropriately heavy without any excessive darkness. Overall, I found Ocean’s Eleven to look pretty terrific.

As for the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, it didn’t excel, but it did its job. The soundfield remained fairly heavily oriented toward the front spectrum. In that domain, the music offered solid stereo imaging, and effects seemed natural and well defined. Those elements spread cleanly across the forward channels. They showed good blending, and panning appeared smooth and natural.

Surround usage seemed limited but acceptable. The rear speakers reinforced the film’s music and they also occasionally offered decent effects support. Admittedly, they remained fairly passive much of the time, but they came to life acceptably during scenes like those at the casino or the dog track. Actually, the boxing match provided the strongest surround action, as the demolition of the hotel also gave us a good auditory segment.

Audio quality also seemed positive but not special. At times, dialogue displayed slight edginess, and some speech sounded a bit stiff. However, most of the time the lines were acceptably natural and distinct, and I never encountered any concerns related to intelligibility. Effects seemed clear and accurate, and they provided the film’s strongest examples of subwoofer usage; for instance, the building demolition kicked in some good LFE. Otherwise, bass response appeared somewhat limited. Music showed decent low-end, but I felt that the score and songs could have been deeper and richer. Still, they provided clean and bright highs and still sounded solid. Ultimately, the soundtrack of Ocean’s Eleven failed to make a strong enough impression to merit more than a “B”.

While it includes some good supplements, I must admit the DVD of Ocean’s Eleven feels a little light given the high profile of the film. Most notable are the disc’s two audio commentaries. The first comes from director Steven Soderbergh and writer Ted Griffin, both of whom were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. I enjoyed the Soderbergh commentaries I heard in the past for both Out of Sight and The Limey. Interestingly, those two also paired the director with their films’ writers.

This usually makes for some nice chemistry between Soderbergh and the writers, and the track for Ocean’s Eleven followed suit. On the negative side, it started somewhat slowly, and it suffered from too many empty spaces. I didn’t hear a slew of the latter, but the number still seemed elevated.

However, the content of the track helped make up for those flaws. At the start, Griffin dominated the commentary and it appeared to take a while for Soderbergh to get into a groove. That eventually occurred, and the two riffed off of each other nicely. They covered a slew of topics; we learned about technical considerations, dealing with the original subject material, working with the actors, and many other topics. While the track’s flaws kept it from being a great one, it still seemed very interesting and informative.

In addition, we get a second commentary from actors Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia and Matt Damon. Actor commentaries are the fool’s gold of the DVD world. When I hear of them, they always sound enticing. I mean, how could it not be cool to hear Chevy Chase discuss National Lampoon’s European Vacation or listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger chat up Total Recall or check out Tommy Lee Jones as he covers Men In Black and The Fugitive?

In reality, many of these tracks fall flat. I can think of very few actor’s commentaries that I actually enjoyed. Many of these involved Brad Pitt, so that got my hopes up for the second Eleven track. Unfortunately, even with Pitt, it fell short of expectations.

From what I could tell, Pitt was taped on his own, while Garcia and Damon were recorded together. Ala the Eric Idle/John Cleese/Michael Palin track for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it sounded as though all three were in the same place, but based on the way they refer to each other, it seemed fairly clear that Pitt was elsewhere. His remarks were deftly edited into the Damon/Garcia track to create a pretty seamless piece.

Whatever the case may be, the three offered a rather spotty commentary. On the positive side, they proved to be charming and engaging, and they offered some very fun anecdotes about the shoot. As always, Pitt provided a number of biting statements and good laughs, especially when he cracked on Clooney. Damon added a funny impersonation of producer Jerry Weintraub as well, and the commentary always felt loose and lively.

However, it lost points for a couple of reasons. For one, quite a few empty spots appeared throughout the commentary. Significant minutes passed without information. In addition, the three meandered into broad praise too much of the time. While disappointed by the commentary’s inconsistencies, I still enjoyed it; just don’t expect a stellar track.

Up next come two featurettes. The Making of Ocean’s Eleven seems like fairly standard “HBO First Look” fare. The 15-minute montage mixes shots from the set, film clips, and interviews. We hear from director Soderbergh, producer Jerry Weintraub, writer Griffin, and actors Pitt, Garcia, Damon, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck and Edward Jemison. Although the piece remains reasonably fun and entertaining, it provides little useful info about the film. It remains a typical promotional program; a few good factoids appear along the way, and we see some nice behind the scenes footage, but for the most part, it’s expendable.

Much better is The Look of the Con, a nine-minute and 40-second featurette that concentrates on the film’s clothing. We hear from costume designer Jeffrey Kurland, Soderbergh, Griffin, and actors Roberts, Clooney, Pitt, Garcia, and Carl Reiner. Despite the moderately extended roster of speakers, Kurland offers the lion’s share of the data as he covers how he approached clothes design for the actors. It’s an informative and entertaining look at this element of the process, and it seems quite useful.

After this we discover three trailers. The disc includes two “teasers” as well as the movie’s full theatrical ad. In addition, the Cast and Crew area provides filmographies for director Soderbergh, producer Weintraub, and actors Clooney, Pitt, Roberts, Garcia and Damon. Other participants’ names appear, but you can’t access any additional information about them.

Lastly, Ocean’s Eleven tosses in some DVD-ROM materials. Most of these are simple links. We find connections to the movie’s website as well as pages for Warner Bros. special events, WB Online, information about their latest DVDs, and an opportunity to sign up for their “Movie Mail” feature.

We also get “Are You In or Out?” which offers seven mini-contests. All fairly simple and brief, they range from moderately enjoyable to mildly annoying. Unfortunately, they provide no reward for completion, which seems like a disappointment; it’d be nice to get something for plodding through all seven of them.

While I don’t know how well the new version of Ocean’s Eleven will play with fans of the original, for someone who never saw the latter, Steven Soderbergh’s edition was a blast. The film managed a wonderfully light and brisk tone that made it a consistent delight. The DVD offered solid picture with good sound and a fairly positive roster of supplements. Frankly, the latter seemed a bit skimpy considering the stature of the film, but the materials included worked reasonably well nonetheless. Overall, I liked this package, as it provided a good set for a very fun flick.

Note: Ocean’s Eleven appears in separate fullscreen and widescreen DVD editions. The fullscreen one has a blue stripe at the top, while the widescreen one features a red stripe.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6017 Stars Number of Votes: 113
11 3:
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