December 11, 2004

"Oceans' Twelve"

An excerpt from my review in the Jan. 3, 2004 American Conservative (available in full to electronic subscribers on Saturday)

Today ought to be a new golden age of movies. Special effects, cinematography, and sound are all steadily progressing. Audiences can now absorb more rapid editing. Budgets are bigger than ever, averaging $64 million in 2003, so sets and costumes are better than ever. Able character actors are everywhere, and today's big stars have broader skills than their glamorous but repetitious predecessors.

Still, judging from 2004's festival of ineptitude, Hollywood is drifting ever farther from consistent competence. The weak links have been halfbaked scripts. Would-be screenwriters throng workshops, so there should be abundant talent available. Sadly, writers and the producers who hire them have worked themselves into self-defeating ruts.

Most remakes fail because producers commission updatings of over-achieving films, such as Frank Sinatra's "The Manchurian Candidate," where everything clicked. In promising contrast, Sinatra's "Ocean's 11" was a notorious under-achiever. The Rat Pack signed on to play WWII commandos reuniting to knock over five Las Vegas casinos so they could film during the day and croon in the stage shows at night. But they forgot to schedule any snooze time, so they sleepwalked through their roles.

Still, the core concept of an action-comedy caper showcasing male camaraderie was appealing. After Ted Griffin penned a sharp new script for "Oceans Eleven," veteran producer Jerry Weintraub and ace director Steven Soderbergh, an Oscar-winner for "Traffic," had little trouble assembling a killer cast. "Ocean's Eleven" was one of the biggest hits of 2001 with adult audiences, who appreciated its 1940s Howard Hawks feel.

The visual chemistry of the gang's leaders was memorable because Brad Pitt exemplifies the scruffy, boyish-looking stars of post-Sixties pop culture, while George Clooney, who is only three years older but appears to hail from an earlier generation, is a throwback to Clark Gable's era of glamour, when actors tried to look like grown men.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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