Ocean’s Thirteen resurrects the caper picture.
What is a caper? It’s a film centered on an elaborate ruse perpetrated by lovable rogues. The genre peaked with The Sting, then gave way to the grittier heist genre. But while heists get bloody, capers are rarely life-and-death scenarios. Today, the caper picture lies largely forgotten, save the occasional farcical comedy. But director Steven Soderbergh proves the old genre has legs.
This film’s lovable rogues come together to avenge their mentor (Elliott Gould) who’s been double-crossed by casino mogul Willy Bank (Al Pacino).
To get even, the group plans to rob Bank’s casino. The film’s joy lies in how they go about it. The casino’s security system offers only a three-and-a-half minute window. To circumvent this obstacle, the group will rig the games to pay out to everyone. The group needn’t win, just for the casino to lose. So, for three-and-a-half minutes, everybody wins.
Of course, folks don’t leave when they’re running hot and if they stay, they’ll just lose back their winnings. The thieves’ solution to this dilemma provides another of the film’s quirky surprises.
A lesser film might drag under such plotting, but Ocean’s Thirteen breezes along, thanks to its all-star cast. Opposite Pacino, George Clooney and Brad Pitt star as the lead thieves with Matt Damon as their de facto lieutenant. Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, and Eddie Izzard round out the crew.
The performers relish the script’s rapid-fire dialogue. Peppered with invented slang and meta references, it’s the film’s biggest treat, and holds up to repeat viewings. The first scene between Clooney and Pacino, with Clooney echoing Pacino’s dialogue from The Godfather always makes me smile.
But my favorite scene is audacious. It opens with Pitt and Clooney strolling along the Las Vegas Strip, reminiscing. They stop and Clooney gestures off-camera, saying, “I remember when this used to be the Dunes.”
Pitt looks down the street, “The Sands was there, and the Desert Inn…”
Cut to a close-up. Both men stand lost in their memories.
Clooney says, “They built them a lot smaller back then.”
Pitt, still looking where The Sands once stood, says, almost to himself, “They seemed pretty big.”
Another beat, then Clooney says, “Towns change,” and Soderbergh cuts to a wide shot reveal of the Bellagio dwarfing Clooney and Pitt.
I love this scene. Such self-indulgence should elicit a groan, but between the crackerjack editing and sheer charisma of his stars, Soderbergh gets away with it. It’s a caper-within-a-caper and I fall for it every viewing.