Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Quick and Dirties: Ranking the The Ocean's Quadrilogy

One of my stated goals for this year was to write more about full franchises. So far, it hasn't happened. I won't bore you with excuses. I'll only say that I have finished at least one franchise. And that's why we're here, today. I powered through rewatches of all of the Clooney/Pitt Ocean's flicks and followed them up with a trip to the theater to see the gender swapped Ocean's 8. Let's see how they stack up to each other.

Side note: Yes, I know about the 1960 original, but that's not part of this franchise, so it's not included.

Ocean's Eleven
We meet Danny Ocean (George Clooney) as he is being paroled from prison. Since he's a lifelong, and clearly not rehabilitated, criminal, he quickly catches back up with his old pal Rusty (Brad Pitt) and sets a plan in motion to rob one of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas on a night when they're hosting a championship boxing match. They expect the vault they are attempting to infiltrate will hold in excess of $160 million. The movie is known for that main plot, but that's not what makes it work. The magic comes from the way it simultaneously develops characters, develops numerous and varied relationships within that group, and takes us through the paces of planning the featured heist. The pitch-perfect performances from Clooney and Pitt make everything work. Neither has ever been cooler, plus their chemistry and timing is immaculate and keep the movie going. It's as if they're a juggling team standing on opposite sides of a circus ring effortlessly and flawlessly tossing a dozen pins back and forth. The supporting cast all play their parts just as perfectly. The story-telling is very busy with all that's going on, but never feels complicated. Each storyline works perfectly with the rest and they never overwhelm each other. The one weak point is that the resolution of the love story between Danny and Tess (Julia Roberts) isn't fully earned. This is still a very entertaining movie that miraculously manages to get out of your way in under two hours despite all that's going on.

Ocean's Twelve
The owner of the casino our antiheroes robbed is one Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). He has been hot on the trail of the crew for two years. He finally catches up with Danny and Tess and lets him know the crew has two weeks to return all the money they stole from him. Of course, they don't still have all that money so they have to perform another heist to get it. Along the way, they cross paths with The Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), another super-crook hell-bent on being known as the best thief in the world, and Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a cop with a personal grudge against Rusty. This time, the movie doesn't have to do the team and world building of the first movie. It takes advantage of not having that burden by continuing to develop relationships between the various characters, including a clearer display of the smaller cliques within the larger group. Brad Pitt takes the lead this time, but his chemistry with Clooney is still magnificent. He also works very well with Catherine Zeta-Jones who is a brilliant addition to the franchise. The film also serves as a bit of a coming out party for Linus (Matt Damon). Both the character and the actor get to stretch their wings quite a bit in comparison to Eleven. Similarly to the first movie, everything works with one small exception, the resolution of the love story. Again, it's not fully earned, but not a big enough knock to change my opinion. If it's a step down at all from its predecessor, it's a tiny step. A tiny, tiny step.

Ocean's Thirteen
One of the crew, Reuben (Elliott Gould) is muscled into giving up his share of a potentially lucrative hotel/casino to Willy Bank (Al Pacino), immediately suffers a heart attack, and travels to the verge of death. Danny Ocean gets wind of this, gets the crew back together, and sets out to rob said hotel/casino. In both of this film's predecessors, the heist is a device that propels the plot forward and plays more as a backdrop for the clashing and coming together of numerous personalities. This time around, the heist is the focus while everything else takes a back seat. And the movie suffers for it. It's worth noting that while George Nolfi wrote Twelve, Brian Koppelman and David Levien have taken over for Thirteen. Their script doesn't seem to understand what makes the other movies work, thus the flip-flop. It practically ignores The Night Fox, whom was set up by Twelve to continue playing a major role. Rather than have him visibly continue the competition between himself and Danny, he shows up, gets sidelined, and turns up again as a walking, breathing deus ex machina. Characters and relationships cease being developed. Reuben's health ultimately proves to be a cheap play for sympathy. Highlighted by the failure of this attempt, and the exclusion of Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones (wisely, on their parts), there is no emotion. Even the playful banter between Clooney and Pitt are lackluster. The cast as a whole just goes through the motions. It's not really their fault, though. They're mostly given nothing to do. The film runs slightly longer than Eleven, slightly shorter than Twelve, but does far less than either.

Before getting to the last movie, there are a lot of players in the franchise whom I haven't mentioned. It's not that they aren't good or important, because they're both. It's just that these are the quick and dirties, so you know, short reviews. Anyhoo, the guys I haven't mentioned at all, but appearing in all three movies are...

Don Cheadle as Basher Tarr
Bernie Mac as Frank Catton
Casey Affleck as Virgil Malloy
Scott Caan as Turk Malloy
Carl Reiner as Saul Bloom
Eddie Izzard as Roman Nagel
Qin Shaobo as The Amazing Yen
Eddie Jemison as Livingston Dell

Ocean's 8
We meet the now-deceased Danny Ocean's little sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock) as she is being paroled from prison. Since she's a lifelong, and clearly not rehabilitated, criminal, she quickly catches back up with her old pal Lou (Cate Blanchett) and sets a plan in motion to steal a necklace valued at $150 million from the neck of a Hollywood starlet who will wear it to the Met Gala. Of course, this will require the two putting together a team capable of pulling off the job. If this sounds familiar, it's because the film uses the same floor plan as Eleven, but the carpentry isn't as good. We get wacky, but very cool intros to all the characters. However, beyond that they aren't developed at all. They're simply thrown headlong into whatever their role in the heist was going to be. With Bullock in the Clooney role, Blanchett is so entrenched in the Brad Pitt role she often seems to be doing an impersonation, but even she has little to do that isn't required as part of the crime they're committing. Debbie's ex-boyfriend Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) is a major driving force for her, but he's a pretty bland excuse for what amounts to this movie's Julia Roberts. All of this means 8 completely lacks any of the emotion required to get us as invested in these people as we should be. Thankfully, the cast is game, has pretty good chemistry, the jokes work. Awkwafina, who plays Constance, and Helena Bonham Carter, playing Rose Weil, are the scene-stealers, but far from the only ones who shine. Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, and Sarah Paulson are all excellent. The surprise is that Rihanna also acquits herself quite well. The one minor disappointment is talk show host James Corden playing the insurance agent hot on our team's trail. He's not terrible, but a lot of the material he's given feels forced and doesn't land. That doesn't even take into account that he's way too young to play the role based on a piece of info we're given shortly after he appears. Apparently, he busted Debbie's dad a couple times, and Danny once. Dude must've been working right out the womb. Then again, the time line seems completely screwed up as it pertains to Danny and Debbie's ages, so I suppose I can let that slide. Anyhoo, the other part of the film that really works is the execution of the heist itself. It's creative, fun, and holds our interest through the third act. Overall, it's a fun, but disposable rehash of Eleven.

If you've read everything above you probably know how this is going to go. Just to be on the safe side, though, here's how I rank them:






  1. I have yet to see Ocean's 8 as of this moment but based on my Letterboxd list of films by Steven Soderbergh. I went with Ocean's 12. I just like to think of it as everyone going to Europe for a big vacation, have fun, and let the audience have fun with them. They probably threw away the screw and just made things up as they went along as I think that's part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much.

    1. No argument from me. 11 and 12 are neck-and-neck, far as I'm concerned. For the purposes of ranking them, I give 11 the ever-so-slightest edge, so anyone having it the other way doesn't bother me at all.

  2. I never could get into this franchise. I'm glad it's loved by many others, it was just never for me.

  3. I never realised the Ocean's movies had such an impressive cast! I haven't seen any of them yet, although I'm seeing the new one tomorrow. I'll definitely watch the original at some point!

    1. The cast in all four movies is outstanding. Hope you enjoy the new one.

  4. I've yet to see the new film so I can only speak to the first three and while the initial film is the best by a country mile I have to disagree with you on the other two. I thought Oceans 12 was a big flat-footed letdown but really enjoyed Oceans 13 even if its not as tight as the first.

    But that first film is a doozy with all the actors playing in just the right mode to really ramp up the camaraderie between them all.

    The Rat Pack original is a boozy mess with the germ of a good idea. The sort of film that should be remade because the ingredients didn't blend properly the first time.

    1. We'll just have to agree to disagree, here. 13 didn't work for me on any level.

      I've never given The Rat Pack original a proper watch, only seen pieces. I need to do that at some point, even if it's not the greatest. And yes, that is an excellent reason to remake a film. It's just not the reason they usually use.

    2. Hi Dell, I just saw Oceans 8 and thought I'd pop back to say what I thought of it.

      I enjoyed it but the actual heist was rather thin compared to the first film and they let the actresses personalities stand in for character development. In a case like HBC who is nothing if not individual (her gown for the event was so outre and yet so her at the same time) that worked out fine but for the less signature performers they just sort of blended together unless they were actually performing their part of the plot. And there was no actual villain to compete against.

      Richard Armitage is a very fine actor and if called on excellent at villainy (he was a very good Guy of Gisborne in the British Robin Hood series a few years back) but his character was a sketch. So he ended up being a very good looking nonentity.

      Anyway it was purtied up nice and flashy and it was good to see familiar faces like Marlo Thomas, Elizabeth Ashley and a couple of the guys from the first films pass through but it was missing the spark of the first. Quite frankly if they had removed the references to the earlier trilogy and tried for a stand alone heist movie they might have been better served.

      It's not the worst of the four but I'd stick it somewhere in the middle.

    3. "They let the actresses personalities stand in for character development." - This

      "And there was no actual villain to compete against." - and this.


      It was very thin, but fun.

  5. I remember not liking Ocean's 12 very much at the time, but this is the second mini-review I've read recently that has said it's neck-and-neck with 11 for the best of the series, so I think I owe it a rewatch. It's hard for ANY movie to match the effortless cool of 11, so I wasn't surprised, but kind of disappointed, that 8 was such a letdown. I just wish the cast had been given more to do because they were clearly all up for it.

    1. I hope you give 12 a rewatch. I think it really is right there with 11. Yeah, 8 could've - should've been better.

  6. Nice breakdown here. I still need to see Ocean's 8, but of Soderbergh's originally trilogy, Twelve is by far my favorite. That thing is so audacious, I just love it. It's the anti-Hollywood sequel if there ever was one.

    1. Twelve is fantastic. I've no qualms with anyone putting it ahead of Eleven. What a fantastic pair of movies.

  7. Corden showing up randomly in the 3rd act rivaled Swank in Logan Lucky. I did enjoy Ocean's 8 though. The ladies were awesome and Anne Hathaway absolutely slayed

    1. The ladies were great together and had awesome chemistry. I just wish the script developed them all more.

  8. Do love those first two film posters. Impeccably slick. Am glad the cast have a great chemistry in the latest film.