“Ocean’s Twelve”

George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon: The gang's all here and ready for another caper in this smart, stylish sequel.

Topics: George Clooney, Movies,

"Ocean's Twelve"

It’s ironic — or maybe it isn’t — that holiday time, when myriad chores, expectations and obligations leave many of us feeling stressed out and unaccountably depressed, is precisely the time so many bloated prestige pictures wash up like whale carcasses on the sandy shores of moviegoing. (The decaying-blubber stench of “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera,” set to open in a few weeks, is already starting to drift landward.) So this is precisely the right time to reflect on the subtle glories of the well-made entertainment, the kind of picture that won’t get its own themed display windows at Bloomingdale’s (as “Phantom” has, in New York, courtesy of Joel “Once a Window Dresser, Always a Window Dresser” Schumacher) but probably should, given how much innate style it has.

“Ocean’s Twelve,” Steven Soderbergh’s sequel to the immensely entertaining “Ocean’s Eleven” (itself based on Lewis Milestone’s 1960 heist comedy), isn’t the kind of movie that wins awards or critics’ prizes, but it’s worthy of our respect just the same: It does the hard work of being a light, smartly turned-out amusement, the sort of thing that’s becoming more and more rare on the movie landscape these days.

“Ocean’s Twelve” picks up not where “Ocean’s Eleven” left off, but three years later — in other words, the 11, the ragtag outfit of thieves and con artists led by Danny Ocean (George Clooney), have had plenty of time to blow the $160 million they’ve stolen from thuggish Las Vegas casino fat cat Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). Danny has settled down with his beloved ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts) — the two are about to celebrate that most romantic of milestones, their second third anniversary. The others have enjoyed the fruits of their labor to varying degrees of excess: Detail man Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) has lost his share of the dough, and then some, in the hip-hotel business, while surveillance geek Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison) works as a stand-up comic and lives at home — he has barely spent a penny.

The problem is that Benedict, having been tipped off that it was Danny’s crew who cleaned out his vaults, wants his money back, with interest. So the 11 gather from all corners of the globe, or at least from this or that state, to plan a new heist so they can get Benedict off their backs.



This new caper takes them to Amsterdam, where they meet with contacts in little cafes and huddle in Spartan hotel rooms, at first scheming to rob an agoraphobic zillionaire (played by Jeroen Krabbé) and later taking on the challenge, thrown down by a cocky thief who goes by the name “The Night Fox” (Vincent Cassel), to steal a hideously gaudy Fabergé egg. To make things more teasingly complicated, Rusty’s onetime girlfriend, international crime expert Isabel Lahiri (the lustrously appealing Catherine Zeta-Jones), herself the daughter of a deceased thief, is on to their every move.

Much of the story is told sideways, and some of it backwards — as with many of Soderbergh’s pictures, the rhythms of “Ocean’s Twelve” aren’t fully predictable, which is part of what makes the picture so beguiling. (The script is by George Nolfi; the movie was edited by Stephen Mirrione, who also edited “Ocean’s Eleven.”) Soderbergh has a penchant for stylish details like jump cuts and snazzy geometric wipes, but he doesn’t use so many of them that they distract us from the storytelling — they’re just little fillips, like the finish of a buttonhole or the slant of a lapel on a bespoke suit.

The whole of “Ocean’s Twelve” is an inclusionary in joke — it winks at us and at itself, sometimes pretty broadly, yet there’s nothing tediously self-referential about it. The picture features several cameos, whose serendipitous pleasures I won’t spoil for you. And Soderbergh has the good sense to realize that Julia Roberts is such a recognizable presence that it’s almost crazy to ask an audience to believe in any character she plays. So he finds a way to meld everything we think we know about Roberts with everything we don’t know about the character of Tess. Being any less cryptic would give away too many of the movie’s surprises, but it’s safe to say that Soderbergh makes Tess seem even more “real” than Julia Roberts, a feat I wouldn’t have thought possible.

“Ocean’s Twelve” is so nicely put together — everything locks with a nice, satisfying click — that it almost seems like a put-down to say that a large part of its charm comes from the shenanigans of its actors, many of which feel improvised even when they aren’t. Clooney doesn’t have the same dreamy movie-star hold he did on the first one: As much fun as “Ocean’s Twelve” is, it could have used more of him. (He gets his best moment when he earnestly tells a bank clerk, barely blinking his luxuriously devilish eyelashes, that he’s a former high school basketball coach — obviously, a very rich one.)

But some of the characters who were too blurred in the earlier movie become more distinct in this one — in particular, Matt Damon as young upstart pickpocket Linus Caldwell. At one point he and Turk and Virgil Malloy (the twins played by Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) try to hatch a scheme to rescue the remainder of the 11 from a pickle they’ve gotten themselves into. They reel off a number of mysteriously named ploys: “How about ‘Hell in a Handbasket’?” one of the twins suggests. “No,” Linus says resolutely, his brow furrowed in thought, “we can’t train a cat that quickly.”

Nearly every character gets his or her share of good lines. Carl Reiner, returning as old-time flimflammer Saul Bloom, gets to utter the immortal words, “Often pregnant women become ambidextrous.” (It makes about as much sense in the movie as it does on the page, but it makes you giggle anyway.) The outlandishly exquisite Elliott Gould returns, in bow tie and Swifty Lazar horn-rims, as bean counter Reuben Tishkoff. He has parlayed his portion of the stolen money into a small fortune, which, at the start of the 11′s troubles, he offers up to help alleviate the group’s debt to Terry Benedict. With guileless affection he asks his compatriots, “Who would I talk to if you were all dead?”

Some characters get very few lines and still manage to make an impression: Yen (Shaobo Qin), the “grease man,” doesn’t say much at all, but he does fold himself up into a duffel bag, which is no mean feat. (When he’s not appearing in Steven Soderbergh movies, Shaobo is a member of the Peking Acrobats.)

Other characters, notably Don Cheadle’s explosives expert Basher Tarr and Bernie Mac’s manicure-loving safecracker Frank Catton, have little to do, which is a shame. But they still manage to seem like a necessary part of the whole. “Ocean’s Twelve” is, after all, a buddy movie with lots of buddies. The interplay between and among the characters, even more than the mechanics of the plot, is what matters, and once again, Soderbergh manages to keep most, if not all, of his characters spinning at once. His great skill lies in making it all seem so easy. That, after all, is the gift of the innately stylish. The rest is just window dressing.

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>