Steven Soderbergh is back in cinemas next week Magic Mike, a film which is being billed as his most commercial for some time. Damon Carter takes a look at what can happen when Soderbergh flirts with the mainstream…
Usually when a remake gets a sequel the anticipation is only accompanied by a collective sigh at the complete lack of Hollywood ideas. Steven Soderbergh’s follow-up to Ocean’s Eleven didn’t fall in that category until many people saw it. The 2001 film was a welcome surprise, with its cool-as-ice direction, rat-a-tat-tat dialogue and inventive cons played out like magic tricks it was a sheer delight to be part of the experience. The ensemble cast worked together and although much of the focus was on George Clooney’s ‘Danny’ all of the eleven had their own memorable moments. It seemed Hollywood was fun again and all of us were keen to get back on board.
The simplicity of the first movie’s plot is one thing that was decided against for this sequel. Two key threads are introduced early on; Rusty (Brad Pitt) is given back-story by way of introducing Isabel (Catherine Zeta Jones) detective who must have been sponsored by Giorgio Armani given the amount of glamorous outfits she’s wearing. From there we see Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) unlock the Eleven with the promise of his money back or death and no more sequels. That is about as simple as it gets as the team decide to make their way across many of the glamorous and chic spots of Europe. Their reasons become revealed later on. After a couple of botched attempts at quick heists Vincent Cassell arrives as the Night Fox and the real game begins. There are plenty of Macguffins around with an Egg being the main player but trying to make sense of the plot isn’t really the chief concern as the story moves so fast it’s hard to remember what country you’re in.
Story -wise Ocean’s Twelve is deliberately scatty, due to the nature of the predicament at hand. We bounce around Europe as the characters scratch their heads trying to find the right answers. This naturally leads to much more catty banter between the group with Danny and Rusty continuing their telepathic exchanges. Casey Affleck and Scott Caan continue with their not so brotherly love and Don Cheadle brings that accent. Special mention also goes to Matt Damon who once again proves his range with a character so goofy and full of comedy that Jason Bourne is far from our minds.
One of the key problems to watching Ocean’s Twelve lies within its constant juggling of characters. There are so many players in this that they have to get some of them to play their real selves (more of which later) and avoid unnecessary back-story misgivings. But there are plenty of joys to be had not least in the ever enigmatic Vincent Cassel taking great delight in the challenge to see who is the better criminal between him and Danny. But many of the smaller players struggle to find their moment in this one as more and more cameos are drafted in. Incidentally it seems that Eddie Izzard is the Twelfth man but is given short shrift. In fact there could be as many 16 players in Danny’s team but picking fault there would be churlish. Isabel is also given far too much screen time and her final embrace with her father lacks any real impact.
But in Soderbergh’s hands all of the existing charm is managed with an enthusiastic sense of fun. This is none more evident than in the soundtrack. It bursts with such a European vibe that you’ll be picturing yourself with the top down driving around sun bleached Italy. It cranks up the drama and urges you to love Europe. Given that it’s a sequel its reassuring that Soderbergh allows himself to play with his style. Picture a scene in a jail where each character looks at the next all done in one take. There are handheld zoom shots adding to the Italian flavour. Or note the confidence with which he directs Cassel in the beautifully absurd and acrobatic laser scene complimented by another wonderful piece of European dance music by David Holmes. The comedic timing is usually spot on as well with the group arguing with Danny at why the team are called ‘Oceans Eleven’ and Linus telling a puzzled Bruce Willis how early he’d figured out The Sixth Sense being particular highlights.
One of the chief complaints from critics is one of the reflexive kind and involves a certain Julia Roberts. The decision to have her play herself isn’t necessarily the funniest joke in the film but you have to admire the sheer confidence to put in a gag so risky. As she so eloquently puts it to Linus;
“You’re playing a role I’m playing a real person. It’s just wrong.”
And maybe it is. But there are few people that could claim they saw that joke coming. Many critics have used this as a stick to beat the film with which is largely unfair. Whether you find it funny or not is another matter as these films are made for filmgoers who enjoy the fun that can be had with Hollywood movies. Just like when the Night Fox dances through the laser field we don’t expect realism, we ask to be entertained and to enjoy a couple of hours of company with movie stars who look like they themselves are having fun. To dislike this film would be to deny a sense of fun that can be had with films and sequels.