Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

I Saw Oceans Thirteen

Posted by Gerald on June 18, 2007

Some friends and I went to see Oceans Thirteen yesterday afternoon.  I really enjoyed it.  It wasn’t quite as good as the first film, but it was a definite improvement on the second.  Like the first film, this one has a single caper at the core of it, it has the same “crooks-with-a-code” get payback against a worse crook at the center of the story.  Al Pacino quickly establishes himself as a guy you really want to see lose.  The film is full of the moments of humor that made the first one a treat (the scene where Danny (George Clooney) and Rusty (Brad Pitt) are watching “Oprah” was a thing of beauty.)  I didn’t think the big caper was quite up to the one in Oceans Eleven, but it was still engaging and fun.

As I was driving home, I was thinking about why this film worked where Oceans Twelve didn’t.  There were many well-founded criticisms leveled at that film, particularly it seeming lazy and self-indulgent.  I agree, but I also think there was something else missing that was back in this film.

Las Vegas.

Outside of being the natural environment for these guys, Las Vegas was another character in these movies; and one that was missed in the second film.  Las Vegas provides a proper place and a community for these stories to exist in.  It also provides a history for them to be part of – the story of the crooks, con-men, gamblers, and larger-than-life figures that come with the city.  These films fit with that, and they also evoke the original film and the original “Rat Pack” that was, and is, such a part of both the city and of American pop culture.

One of the things that attracts me to certain movies, TV shows, books, music, and even food is juxtaposition that creates contrast.  I like some comedy with my drama, some drama with my comedy, some dissonance with my melody, and some sweet with my sour.  In both Oceans Eleven and Oceans Thirteen there are healthy doses of the hip, the pretty, the funny, and the witty.  But I also felt in Eleven, and even more in Thirteen, a bittersweet nostalgia for the “Old Vegas”.  In each film, there is one scene that summed this up for me.

In Oceans Eleven there is a scene after the caper has been pulled when the guys are standing watching the dancing fountains as Claire de Lune (I think) plays.  Then, one-by-one, they walk away.  There is a lot happening there.  This is the moment of really feeling the success of the evening. There is also a strong sense of the remaining bond between these men even as they go their separate ways.  It is a quiet and an emotional scene.  At the end, we are left with Carl Reiner standing alone with a look on his face that has moved me every time I’ve watched the film.  Here is someone who knew the original “Rat Pack”, who was part of that “Old Vegas”, and who was a link between that tradition and this new film.  Watching that scene, I’ve always felt this sense of bittersweet nostalgia for that time and place – and for that whole part of American culture that has really passed away.

In Oceans Thirteen there is another quiet and emotional scene that is more on point.  Danny and Rusty are standing on the Strip talking about their past with Reuben (Elliot Gould), which then leads to them remembering and pointing to where the old casinos were.  Danny says something to the effect of “They build them bigger, these days” to which Rusty replies “They seemed plenty big at the time.”  Again, it is a little scene, but we can feel here the same sense of nostalgia for the Las Vegas that used to be, for the stars that used to be, maybe even for the country that used to be.

I think it is those moments and that sense of loss and memory that gave an excellent counterpoint to the fun of these two films.  All of that is so well established in Las Vegas, where the history of so much of American popular culture meets the ongoing American drive to develop and grow and advance, while plowing under what went before; where our memories meet the impermanence of our culture. 

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2 Responses to “I Saw Oceans Thirteen”

  1. Steve said

    Two things:
    1. To add to your sense of weight with fluff (my phrase for that beautiful mix of comedy and tragedy): Was there anything more beautiful than the notion that a ruthless casino tycoon was tricked into donating over 75 million dollars to charity? Amidst all the show and glitter of Vegas, Thirteen very gently tossed in a few counterpoints. 36 million for a drill? Hundreds of millions for diamond necklaces? Oprah builds a house for a family in need. Benedict donates 75 million. It’s a shame it’s just a movie…
    2. I was just reading through the most recent Entertainment Weekly– the 25 Greatest Action Movies of All Time piece, to be exact. At the end of their bit about Die Hard they excerpted an interview with Bruce Willis. Willis, talking about Live Free or Die Hard makes this comment, “I think the world of technology has kind of passed him by– that was what got me to say yes to this film, the story of an analog cop in a digital world.” Damn near the same as a line from Ocean’s Thirteen. Granted, Willis was in Twelve, so I’m sure there’s a connection, but this makes me think we’re certainly at a point where we’re beginning to seriously question the role of “digital” in our lives: Have be sold our souls for cell phones and high speed? I’d even connect it back to Battlestar: Is analog– in a pinch– better than all this soul-less digital glitz? The human brain’s limitless ingenuity a surer bet than technology? I think we know what Battlestar‘s answer is… (its beauty is in its unparalleled questioning of that very assumption).

  2. bridgett said

    Steven Soderburgh is beginning to turn into Damon Runyon…or maybe Billy Wilder?

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