By the time Ocean’s Thirteen, the third and final film in Steven Soderbergh’s comic heist trilogy, came around in 2007, there was no need to re-introduce the cast of characters. At this point, Don Cheadle’s awful cockney accent was a kind of in-joke; Casey Affleck and Scott Caan’s chemistry as the irascible brothers from Utah was so well-established that their mere presence could elicit laughter. This familiarity speaks to Soderbergh’s interest in continuing the series—what’s absolutely clear, in each of the three Ocean’s films, is that everyone involved is having a blast working together.

Where Ocean’s Twelve was a sly, meta-cinematic genre deconstruction (misunderstood by many as an inept sequel), Thirteen is a back-to-basics, straight up caper movie. Here, screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien (best-known for Rounders) add a revenge plot into the mix to kick things off. The gang’s bankroller and mentor, Reuben (Elliott Gould), is stricken by illness after he’s cheated out of his share in a new Las Vegas hotel/casino by his partner, Willy Bank (a very Donald Trump-ian Al Pacino), who’s known for his shady business dealings. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his old pal Rusty (Brad Pitt) gather up the old crew to take Bank down.

Notably, the motivation has always been personal in this film series. In the first film, Danny’s hidden master plan is ultimately to win back his ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), from casino-owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia); but here, it’s even less about simple monetary gain and more about settling a score. In addition to robbing Bank’s garish monstrosity of a hotel, Danny and Rusty plan to deprive him of the coveted Five Diamond award, which all of his previous hotels have garnered. To this end, they identify the incognito judge (David Paymer, poor man) and beset his stay with foul odors, infested bed sheets and tampered-with food.

While Julia Roberts doesn’t return for this third installment, Andy Garcia does, and, this time, he’s part of the gang. A rival of Willy Bank, he’s all too happy to participate in his undoing, even if it means being in league with the men who once robbed him of millions. This film also pays off a thread that began in Eleven involving pickpocket artist Linus (Matt Damon) and his father, played here, in one of the film’s best reveals, by Bob Einstein.
There are other layers to the plot, such as the reappearance of master thief François Toulour (played by Vincent Cassel), but little of it feels of any consequence. Despite the event that sets the film in motion—Reuben’s comatose state in reaction to being bilked by Bank—it’s really just an excuse to get everyone back together again for one last go around the Ocean’s ride. And, make no mistake, the Ocean’s series is one hell of a fun ride. Critics often discuss Soderbergh’s career in a “one for them, one for me” dichotomy (meaning that he makes the occasional commercial project to fund his more personal films), but this implies that his heart isn’t in his genre fare, which is empirically untrue. In fact, the Ocean’s series features some of his slickest, most energetic photography and cutting and is imbued with a pure love of filmmaking and a sense of camaraderie among the cast and crew. From David Holmes’s funky musical scores to the elegant production design, it’s clear nothing is being phoned in.

It’s possible to level the charge of staleness at Ocean’s Thirteen, as what was once fresh is now familiar. But it’s hard to argue that there still isn’t some life in this series, especially when its hallmarks—intricate plotting, high style, clever dialogue and some great disguises by Brad Pitt and the legendary Carl Reiner—are in abundant supply. Ocean’s Thirteen won’t go down as Soderbergh’s crowning achievement, but it’s a gift for those left wanting even more after the first two. And who wouldn’t be?

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