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Script Review: MORIARTY Bets On OCEAN'S 11!!

Published at: April 21, 2001, 2:40 p.m. CST by staff

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

I was amazed the other day when talking with a friend about Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney to hear him say that he wasn’t rooting for them or for their upcoming OCEAN’S 11 collaboration. “They’re too good,” he said, and in some ways, I understand his frustration. Clooney may have gotten off to a rocky start as a movie star, but he’s found his legs now. He’s got impeccable taste, and he’s proven it not only with smart projects, one right after another, but also with his choice in collaborators. Not only did he work with the Coen Brothers last year, but he also formed a new production company, Section Eight, with the man of the hour, Steven Soderbergh. And that was before the dual Oscar nominations. That was before TRAFFIC broke $100 million. These two men on their own would be pretty much impossible to stop at this point, but as a combined force, they are intimidating.

The fact of the matter is, though, there’s a reason they’re so well regarded right now. They’ve both been kicking ass with their last several projects in a row, proving themselves capable of mixing commercial concerns with artistic integrity, with a remarkable level of success. I couldn’t be a bigger fan of their first film together, OUT OF SIGHT. I think it’s luminous movie star filmmaking, smart and funny and sexy, with one of the best adult romances I’ve seen in film in recent memory. There’s nothing finer than the moment when “Gary” and “Celeste” meet for drinks in a hotel bar, and we are suddenly set free to bounce backwards and forwards in time, watching the dance of seduction downstairs and the giddy physical tangle upstairs. It’s a remarkable moment, and Soderbergh (working with editor Anne V. Coates) has become quite adept at creating these moments, perfect, frozen in amber, snapshots of cool. This should come in handy as they make what could very well be the coolest fucking movie shooting anywhere right now, OCEAN’S 11, a tribute of sorts to the spirit of the Rat Pack, the myth of Vegas, and a heist movie that should put the lid on heist movies.

Have I mentioned it’s a good script? Have I mentioned it's a very good script?

I love a good antihero. Someone you shouldn’t root for, but you just can’t help it. That’s Danny Ocean in this script, and as of the October 24, 2000 draft of the script, the part was an absolutely perfect fit for Clooney. The film starts with Danny wising off to the parole board, then being released from prison in New Jersey. I think it’s fitting that the last stuff they’re going to shoot for the movie is the prison footage that bookends the film. These are the moments away from the excitement, the only room to breathe in this entire manic endeavor. When I read the draft of the script from just before Soderbergh signed on to do the movie, I thought it was a lot of fun. That was a very, very different script than this one, and Ted Griffin (RAVENOUS, BEST LAID PLANS) deserves credit for turning a smart commercial romp into something more. This is a bullet, an entertainment machine, and with the mind-boggling cast they’ve put together, I feel safe in predicting right now that this will be one of the top three earners this Christmas, a monster hit. Right now, people think of this as a remake. That will change. This will be one of those rare circumstances when the second version of a film eclipses the original, replacing it as the one people think of first. I know that Clooney is a major fan of the Rat Pack, and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of respect paid to the origins of the project, but the truth of the matter is OCEAN’S 11 was always better on paper than on the screen. It sounded great: Frank Sinatra and his buddies rob a bunch of Vegas casinos and drink and carry on and, sure, as a glimpse at that moment, the film is a pretty fascinating time capsule. It’s just not a very clever movie, and the execution is rushed, uneven to say the least. This time out, every single role in the film is going to be interesting, and the heist is incredibly tricky and fun and the great comedy writing combined with the truly sweet romantic subplot should all add up to something that, like Las Vegas itself right now, is so big and shiny and remarkable that you just can’t look away.

It’s hard to define cool, and it’s even harder to write it when you know you HAVE to be cool. There’s no way for Soderbergh and Clooney and Griffin to fake this. Danny Ocean’s got to be a worthy leader for this eccentric band of thieves, or the film doesn’t work. They rise to the challenge in the writing, though, and Danny is able to assemble a team that includes:

RUSTY RYAN (Brad Pitt)

Rusty’s a whiz with a deck of cards, and he’s growing bored giving lessons in how to be a cold-blooded gambler to Hollywood pretty boy KYLE TANNER. Knowing that Matt Damon, who had to study poker with experts in order to star in ROUNDERS, is also in this film makes this feel like a particularly wicked introduction. Right away, we see that Rusty is every bit Danny’s equal.

REUBEN TISHKOFF (Elliott Gould)

Perfect match of actor and role. Gould should be hilarious as Tishkoff, the guy who bankrolls Danny’s crazy plan as a way of getting back at Terry Benedict, the guy who screwed him out of his casino and drove him off the strip.

TURK and VIRGIL MALLOY (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan)

Part peckerwood menace, part electronics whiz, the Malloy Boys are valuable members of the team, even if they seem barely coherent in conversation.

FRANK CATTON (Bernie Mac)

If you’re familiar with Bernie Mac, then you’ve probably been waiting for someone to figure out how to harness his particular brand of intensity properly for a film. Well, this is the role. Frank’s given up on his days of crime and has taken a job as a dealer in Atlantic City. He’s the first one aboard Danny’s plan, and his transfer to Vegas sets the whole thing in motion.

BASHER TARR (Don Cheadle)

Don was right not to play just another lounge singer, a rehash of the Sammy Davis Jr. role. He’s more interesting than that, and Basher is a great role for him to play. This is the guy who is responsible for turning off the power on Vegas, creating the distraction that will give them a chance to pull off the impossible job.

SAUL BLOOM (Carl Reiner)

Here’s a happy accident. I love the work of Alan Arkin, and I think he would have been amazing playing Saul. There’s something eternally cool about the presence he brings to films. When he dropped out, though, and Carl Reiner came onboard... well, that may have been one of those things that was simply meant to be. Reiner’s a wonderful comic performer who rarely gets the chance to bust out his chops these days. This is a damn good part, central to the heist, and Reiner should play Saul... as well as Lyman Zerga, his alter-ego... with wit and style to spare, schooling his younger castmates in the process.

LINUS CALDWELL (Matt Damon)

He’s the hands. There’s a crucial lift that has to be made, and Linus is a pickpocket beyond compare. His father Bobby is an old friend of Reuben’s, and a guy with an enormous rep of his own. Linus has to step up to take Danny’s place at a crucial point in the film, and it’s a defining moment for a guy just coming into his own.

And there’s characters outside Danny’s gang, too.

TERRY BENEDICT (Andy Garcia)

Every so often, someone gives Andy Garcia a shot at real serious stardom. His role in THE GODFATHER III and his proposed role in THE GODFATHER IV sounded like a step up to something bigger. His role in THE UNTOUCHABLES was a great introduction. But he never manages to keep any heat going. Whether that’s by choice or by circumstance, I’m just glad that he always eventually resurfaces. He should be perfect as the guy who’s getting robbed, the target of all this sound and fury. It’s a great role in the script, full of moments for Garcia to shine. If we’re supposed to like Danny and his band of merry thieves, then it’s a safe bet that we should want to see their target get robbed. Terry Benedict is a great target.

TESS (Julia Roberts)

She was Danny’s. Now she’s Terry’s. And Danny wants her back. It’s not that complicated a role, but in the hands of Julia, especially back in the arms of the director who took her all the way to the Oscars, this is the kind of luminous movie star role she plays better than anyone.

All you really need to know is that Danny decides they’re going to rob three casinos... The Bellagio, The Mirage, and the MGM Grand, all of which are owned by Terry Benedict. Everyone has their own reasons for getting involved. Mainly, there’s that $160 million in cash they’re planning on splitting into equal shares. The heist is impossible, and Ted Griffiths spends as much energy convincing us that it can’t be done as he does convincing us that it can. It’s great, because by stacking the odds against Danny and the guys so completely, it becomes even more fun watching them get through each level of security using a Chinese acrobat, sophisticated video technology, incredible sleight-of-hand, and various cons including “a Boesky, a Jim Brown, a Miss Daisy, two Jethros, and a Leon Spinks. Oh, and lest we forget: the biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever.”

Soderbergh’s never made a film of this size before, and the visual sophistication he’s been refining over his last few films is going to come in handy here. The new face of Las Vegas, developed over the last ten years or so, has never been captured on film by someone great, and Soderbergh’s the man for the job. This film is about Vegas. There’s Vegas in every scene, on every page, in every line, in the way these characters all gleefully scam each other. As much as this is a nod to the Rat Pack and that sense of cool, it’s also a reminder of what Vegas meant once. It’s about risking everything in search of a jackpot. It’s just this side of desperate, just this side of tacky, just this side of crazy. I’m most looking forward to the scenes between Danny and Rusty, his right-hand man in all of this, and the scenes between Danny and Tess. George and Julia together, both turned up to maximum flirt... how are theaters going to handle the swooning in the aisles? Their dialogue is sassy, fun, just light enough, just sexy enough. There’s a relationship suggested with the barest of details, the same thing that makes the scenes with Danny and Rusty so great. You know these people have been through a lot together before, and that sense of history is what takes them out of being mere cartoons of cool and really makes OCEAN’S 11 special. Anyone could make this movie glossy. This cast, this crew, and this script means there’s a good chance it might actually have a soul.

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback

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  • April 21, 2001, 2:45 p.m. CST

    Ratner's version

    by Guerilla_Films

    woulda kicked ass because it woulda been doped out hip hop. but on this version we get a David Holmes score (http://oblivion.accessus.net/~jon is my fanpage. And he brings the noise and the funk like he did on the out of sight score.

  • April 21, 2001, 2:47 p.m. CST

    re: Ratner's version

    by Guerilla_Films

    for those who don't know Brett ("Rush Hour") Ratner was supposed to make this film originally. could have been...interesting.

  • April 21, 2001, 2:50 p.m. CST

    Here's to hoping

    by superman5150

    1st. Had to say it. Anyway, I am a bigger fan of Clooney than Soderberg, but I'm wishing all the best to this film. With a beyond A list cast, this movie should do good. Don't have any important to say, so I'll be gone.

  • April 21, 2001, 2:52 p.m. CST

    Out of Sight

    by Bruce T Shark

    The biggest crime in recent Oscar history is not that Shakespeare in love won Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan but that Out of Sight wasn't even nominated. It was one of the coolest films in years, better even than Get Shorty (another Elmore Leonard book). I cannot wait to see if Soderberg can extend his run of hits with Oceans 11. After that he should have a go at Be Cool (the sequel to Get Shorty).

  • April 21, 2001, 3 p.m. CST

    Producer Jerry Weintraub IS Mr. Las Vegas! But two Jethros?

    by Regis Travolta

    You mean Max Baer Jr. from the Beverly Hillbillies has been cloned? He wants to build a Hillbilly Casino in Tahoe and is trying to get the financing for it, even has a license from Paul Henning to use all the characters from Beverly Hillbillies I humbly suggest that YOU Jerry, yes YOU JERRY WEINTRAUB help Max Baer Jr. in his quest to build a wonderful icon of gambling to the Beverly Hillbillies. If not you Jerry then who? Certainly not me. And most assuredly not Soderbergh or Clooney. No Jerry it's up to you to use your New York street smarts and incredible likeability to build the Beverly Hillbillies Casino Hotel. Do it Jerry, do it as soon as you wrap production on "E-Oh-11"..."E-Oh-11"... I hope they use that song in the closing credits! "Never the luck"...

  • April 21, 2001, 3:10 p.m. CST

    Speaking of O-11, Freddy Got Fingered sucked

    by leeVSbenway

    I knew that it was terrible going in, but I had no idea of how awful film could possibly be. I'm no snob when it comes to bad cinema. I could converse for hours about the ouvre of Fred Olen Ray or the stylings of Jesus Franco...in other words, I can't wait for the DVD.

  • April 21, 2001, 4:16 p.m. CST

    Soderbergh's winning streak

    by Sixdoublefive321

    I know there's been one hell of a lot of talk about him lately, but I think Soderbergh's is a really interesting career. Here's a guy whose first movie was the shot that started indie-film bloom of the late 80's/90's and the first movie to really make some big bucks for Miramax. Now, granted, had "sex, lies" gone straight to video without a splash (something that was entirely possible given the film's financing deal) another movie would've stepped in. But "sex, lies" is a solidly made, intelligent movie and I can't think of a more respectable flick of that period to start a trail blazing. After that, the guy made a few... misguided movies one after the other. They all have great moments, but they just don't really work. But this is where it gets interesting. It's only when he turns to no-budget, fairly experimental films and starts trying some weird shit that he straightens his course. I think "Schizopolis" may be the best movie he's ever made for that same reason -- it's the work of a guy with nothing to lose and he's right out in front of it (and he's a surprisingly effective actor, to boot). He's paid his dues in spades, basically, and learned more in the process -- I doubt he'd be making great movies now if he had made two or three successful movies after "sex lies." So, yeah, now he's got the Oscar and he's in the books with the double nomination, he's got the freedom to be his own DP, he's all over the place and the smell of backlash is in the air (even *he's* saying he has low expectations for O-11). But I can name 10, 15 working directors off the top of my head who've gotten just as much hype & attention as he has for doing a hell of a lot less work. Plus, his DVD commentaries are a hoot!

  • April 21, 2001, 7:24 p.m. CST

    Isn't it Ocean's 11? Where are the rest of the 11?

    by Kevin Bosch

    This can probably be answered in some simple way, but i still want to know. I had a chance to pick up this script a while back, but instead I got Adaptation and Confessions of A Dangerous Mind. I wonder if I can stil get in contact with the guy that was who had it.

  • April 21, 2001, 7:53 p.m. CST

    HAS anyone seen the Movie called Gummo

    by The Tao of Joe

    Ever wonder what film harry is spoofing when he is playing the acordian on the toilet? Its GUMMO! Gummo is this weird movie from the director of KIDS. Its a post apacalyptic tale about the ohio based survivors of a great and temendous tornado. The story tells the lives of many people but especially the lives of these two cat hunters who go around killing cats, and selling them to a butcher, only to use the money to buy sex from a mentally handicapped girl. Ohter characters include, a gay man who comes onto a black midget (I shit you not), three sisters (one of which is played by Chloe Sverinty, who also did the costume work for the film), who look for their lost cat, tape their nipples with electrical tape, and fight off a gossip columnist who tries to touch one of the girl's "cootchie". The movie combines actual footage of actual people, with acted out scenes, in a way that is weird. While there was no real story, I was greatly mezmerized by the film, and its bunny child narrator, who wonders throughout the entire film

  • April 21, 2001, 9:47 p.m. CST

    has there ever been a cooler cast?

    by AstupidOL

    Ok so im thinking, in recent big heist/mystery movies, there has never been a cooler cast than this. Then im thinking, wait, has there ever been a cooler cast sometime in the last 2 decades? Nothing has ever been this big before. NOTHING. This is so freaking cool..the only thing higher on my anticipation list is the sci-fi darren aronofsky movie with Pitt...jesus movies kick ass..im gonna go take some ritalin now

  • April 21, 2001, 10:22 p.m. CST

    I cant believe people are looking forward to this

    by alpha

    George Clooney has never made a film I have remotely enjoyed. I wanted to like From Dusk to Dawn but I didn't. He was awful in Out of Sight which was unfathomably bad. Three kings ... bad, Batman & Robin ... worse, Perfect Storm ... perfect crap. He's just a bad actor. As for Pitt he's little better and Julia Roberts is like a machine gun... scattered fire all over the place with occassional hits but a lot of misses. I predict that this film will be almost unwatchable.

  • April 21, 2001, 11:33 p.m. CST

    George Clayton Johnson wrote the original script.

    by Uncapie

    So there.

  • April 21, 2001, 11:39 p.m. CST

    P.S. Hey, you got gum Tao Of Joe?

    by Uncapie

    "Gummo" sounds like a trippy flick. Guess it can't be all that bad if Chloe Sevegny tapes up her bodacious ta-ta's with electrical tape. I'd work for free on that crew if I could help her out.

  • April 22, 2001, 2:30 a.m. CST

    soderberg

    by martin_q_blank

    The above article is a bit gushy considering that noone has seen any of the movie yet. Soderberg seems unstoppable at the mo ('with the exception of 'The Limey'- Terence Stamp's 'cockerney' accent must rank as one of the most ludicrously O.T.T. of all time) .......I just hope that this is more than an exercise in 'cool'- that it has a bit of heart. Glad that it isn't a straight remake - the original is dreadful. Who is D.P? is Soderberg shooting it himself again?

  • April 22, 2001, 3:07 a.m. CST

    billy ocean

    by scanlon

    actually i have to thank mort for this review. this is the most info i've gotten on this movie. and i'm pumped to see it. ted griffen was an inspired choice. loved both the scripts he's written. smart and twisted. i must say this one has winner written all over it. as far as ratner's involvement. his original screenwriter was steve carpenter. that guy that wrote blue streak. shows where his tastes lie. plus i'm sure chris tucker would have had to have been in it. weak. his company did ,from what i understand, also pick griffen so maybe im wrong, i don't know. i don't think ratner would have brought as much to it as this crew will. anyway. i'm done rambling. please give us some more updates on this movie.

  • April 22, 2001, 11:22 a.m. CST

    Harmony did some of the directing in kids

    by The Tao of Joe

    if you watch kids, you will see two scenes, which are not so good in direction, but great as far as capturing reality is concerned. One of those, the best, was a scene in which a circle of girls talk about their sexual experiences. It was not scripted That was a harmony scene, a expose' of sorts, on the actual actors lives, and it fit into the rest of the film. Harmony wasnt the director of kids, but he was still A director of kids. Gummo is a series of the harmony scenes, combined with a few sparse acted scenes. Who is the moron now, This is the way

  • April 22, 2001, 11:29 a.m. CST

    Oceans Eleven-is that gonna be the title?

    by Spacey'd out

    It shold be a great movie. And even if its half as good as its predicted to be then it's gonna be really cool.

  • April 22, 2001, 7:23 p.m. CST

    Forget that- MAUDLIN'S ELEVEN!

    by Sorcerer

    Starring George Clooney as Sammy Maudlin and Don Cheadle as Bobby Bitman, with a special appearance by Julia Roberts as Lola Heatherton! "I love you and I want to bear all your children!!!!" Yes, I've been watching SCTV reruns, why do you ask?

  • April 23, 2001, 9:06 a.m. CST

    I got three words for you

    by WillardEisenbaum

    Bernie. Motherfuckn. MAC.

  • April 23, 2001, 9:10 a.m. CST

    I'm there

    by B A Fett

    Well I must say that I just went from 'curious' about this movie to 'very interested'. Needless to say now I'll be there to see it on opening week-end.

  • April 23, 2001, 10:19 p.m. CST

    Not so fast...

    by zips

    OK, lot's of well known names are in this cast but I don't think that automatically means smash hit. Look, I love George but even I can see his weak box office draw. You say "Perfect Storm?" I say "big wave popcorn flick" I will always see George as Dr.Ross.