Directed By: Stephen Soderbergh
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, Elliot Gould, Andy Garcia, Eddie Izzard, Eddie Jemison
Ocean's Thirteen finds Danny Ocean (Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Pitt) re-assembling their gang from the previous films in the series when they learn that their friend, Reuben Tishkoff (Gould), has suffered a heart attack after being double crossed in a business deal with hotel/casino tycoon Willie Bank (Pacino). After giving Bank one chance to make things right by restoring Reuben's share of the hotel and casino, they proceed to take every step imaginable to insure that the grand opening of "The Bank" is a disaster. This runs the gamut from rigging nearly every game on the floor against the house to sabotaging the visit of the critic who will decide whether the hotel receives a prestigious "Five Diamond" rating. When the cost of overcoming the security system, which involves simulating an earthquake with channel-digging machinery, becomes prohibitive, the gang is forced to recruit an unlikely ally for additional financing – former heist victim and nemesis Terry Benedict (Garcia). Benedict agrees to put up the money, but insists that they also add the seemingly impossible theft of Bank's super-secure diamond collection to their "to-do" list.
While I enjoyed 2001's Ocean's Eleven for the escapist neo-Rat-Pack entertainment that it was, I heard so many negative opinions about the sequel, Ocean's Twelve, that I never bothered to see it. With that in mind, I approached this second sequel with fairly low expectations. I am happy to report that those low expectations were met and exceeded. Ocean's Thirteen is a fun if forgettable light entertainment much in the spirit of the first film in the series although not nearly as fresh. While the cutesy conversations involving Clooney, Pitt, Damon, and the rest of the cast have become a bit labored and forced, and any sliver of a connection to plausibility has been severed with extreme prejudice for this caper, there is still fun to be had watching the cast have fun with each other.
New additions this time out include Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin. Pacino is perfectly cast as the brazenly egotistical casino tycoon. By most acting standards, Bank is a bit broadly played, but by the last three decades of Al Pacino standards, he is fairly restrained. Ellen Barkin plays Bank's right hand woman with a hidden weakness for younger men with large prosthetic noses. It is a somewhat thankless role, even more so than the Julia Roberts role from the first film in the series, but even if Barkin is not quite allowed into the boys club, she does capture the general spirit of fun for which the movie seems to be going in the handful of opportunities she is afforded. Another standout newcomer is David Paymer, whose character is identified only as "The V.U.P.". Paymer's performance really sells the absolute hellish experience of his character at the hotel to great comic effect. Bob Einstein, of "Super-Dave" fame has a brief but fun part late in the film. The bickering relationship between his and Matt Damon's character is amusing enough that I would consider buying a ticket to a spin-off film focusing on just their exploits.
Soderbergh tops off his confection with his usual hyper-stylized cinematography making heavy use of filters and colored lights. This creates a sense of unreality that helps viewers accept the implausibility of the plot that is unfolding before them. I would criticize him for excessively indulging his actors, but that would be like criticizing the maker of a concert film for being too reliant on music. The whole raison d'etre of the Ocean's… films seems to be to let charismatic actors have a holiday with fake moustaches, pointless but snappy dialog scenes, self-consciously cool posturing, and terrible accents (Elliot Gould affects the most unconvincing New York accent I could imagine ever coming from a Brooklyn-born actor).
I viewed the 2.35:1 16:9 enhanced 1080p VC-1 presentation via my Panasonic 720p LCD projector with a 100" diagonal 16:9 screen. The transfer can be difficult to judge on some levels. There is nary a shot in the film accomplished without the use of a filter, colored lights, "pushed" exposure, or some combination of the above. In terms of how this is translated to HD DVD video, contrast is generally very good with excellent shadow detail except for certain shots which appear to have some intentional exposure adjustment with slightly blown out highlights or black crush. Aside from these visual artifacts that are part of the intended look of the film, there is very little about which to complain. Film grain is reproduced faithfully, colors are solid and deep, and there are no hints of digital video related artifacts.
The English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track offers excellent fidelity. The sound design is very similar to that of other Soderbergh films, concentrating on the front channels except for certain scenes (such as the earthquake) where the rears and LFE are used for very specific effects. Alternate (and un-reviewed) Dolby Digital Plus audio track options are French 5.1 and Spanish 5.1.
From the Special Features menu, the viewer has five choices, two of which are exclusive to the high definition releases of the film:
The first high-definition exclusive feature is an audio commentary from Director Soderbergh and screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien. They offer a lively, occasionally irreverent, track with background on all aspects of the production. Soderbergh is a veteran of several commentary tracks for his own and other films, and sounds relaxed and prepared. This helps him to mix interesting factual information in while still gamely keeping up with the occasionally silly tangents that their conversation tends to follow.
The second high-definition exclusive (Note: this featurette is available on a bonus disc exclusive at certain US and Canadian retailers, but is otherwise exclusive to the high-definition releases of "Ocean's Thirteen".) feature is Masters of the Heist, a 43 minute and 59 second featurette presented in mpeg-2 video that documents four real-world "heists", although that term is applied loosely. The first subject is Charles Ponzi, who immigrated from Italy to Boston, MA in 1920 and devised an investment scheme where he would promise to pay back investors 150% over a period of time, and would do so by paying off his original investors with the funds of his subsequent investors. He collected ten million dollars over a period of seven months before his "pyramid" collapsed. The case became so infamous that pyramid schemes are alternately referred to as "Ponzi" schemes to this day. The second subject concerns the MIT blackjack team that expanded the method of counting cards into a team-based concept that netted them approximately ten million dollars before being banned from the casinos. The second subject is Doris Payne, a woman from West Virginia who devised a method for stealing jewelry right from under the noses of sales clerks and worked her scheme across the US and Europe to the tune of approximately 400 thefts over a period of 50 years. Finally, the last subject covered is the 1990 theft of five irreplaceable masterpieces and other artifacts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. While much has since been learned about who comitted the crime and how, the paintings have never been recovered. The stories of these "heists" are told through a combination of dramatic recreations and interviews with authorities on, and, in the case of the MIT blackjack team and the Gardner Museum heist, participants/conspirators in, the subjects.
Next up is Vegas: An Opulent Illusion. This 22 minute and 46 second featurette is presented in 16:9 enhanced mpeg-2 video. Narrated by D. B. Sweeney, it begins with a short history of Las Vegas and then progresses to a discussion of how modern Las Vegas works. Topics range from how the role of ameneties and entertainment has changed over the years to the difference between a high roller and a "whale". It intersperses interviews with Vegas authorities with footage of some of the ritzier areas of various hotels and casinos and a few clips from Ocean' Thirteen that are at least obliquely related to the point being made. There are no chapter stops, but on-screen titles neatly break it up into sections entitled "The Draw of the Strip", "The Lure of the Game", and "The Rush to New Heights". On-camera interview participants include Las Vegas Adviser.com Editor Anthony Curtis, casino architect Paul Steelman, former "Golden Nugget" Owner Tim Poster, "The Palms" Owner George Maloof, Jr., Independent Casino Host Steve Cyr, Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino CEO Ian Bruce Eichner, and Friedmutter Group Founder Brad Friedmutter.
Jerry Weintraub Walk and Talk runs a brief two minutes and 24 seconds, and is presented in 4:3 mpeg-2 video. This consists of Producer Weintraub offering a tour of the massive and detailed "Bank" casino set built for the film and then encouraging you to see the movie which you have already purchased or rented by the time you watch this feature.
Finally, Deleted Scenes contains a set of four scenes that were either reduced in length or deleted completely from the movie. They are presented in VC-1 encoded 16:9 enhanced 1080p video and run a total of four minutes and 34 seconds. The scenes are as follows:
- Deleted bit with Scott Caan dressed as a waiter being told to clean up after a vomiting customer
- Extended bit with more dialog from Clooney and Pitt, some of which was used elsewhere in the final film, where a roulette "fixer" is violently ejected from the casino. Some of the expository dialog about the roulette fixer helps to both make a plot point and sell a gag better than in the finished film
- Deleted scene with Eddie Izzard and Eddie Jemison fixing the blackjack card shuffling machine
- Desert meeting between Andy Garcia and Vincent Cassel's characters
The film and extras arrive on a double sided HD DVD/DVD "Combo" disc with the standard definition presentation appearing on the flip side of the High Definition Disc. The disc is packaged in a standard translucent red single disc HD DVD case.
Comparison to SD DVD
The HD DVD is far superior to the SD release in terms of image quality and audio fidelity. While the audio improvement is about what I have come to expect from higher bitrate Dolby Digital Plus tracks, the video quality difference is due to more than just the inherent increase in resolution. The SD DVD is riddled with compression artifacts around edges and exhibits visible digital noise within film grain patterns that make it an unattractive viewing experience on large screens. None of these artifacts intrude on the HD DVD presentation. Even the two featurettes that are common between the two releases are dramatically better compressed on the HD DVD.
"Ocean's Thirteen" provides a diverting two hours for fans of the first film in the series. While the "this time it's personal" plot is a bit clichéd, the filmmakers try to make up in sizzle what they lack in steak, and succeed modestly. The HD DVD presentation has outstanding (although not lossless) audio, and a very nice film-like video presentation. The extras are a step up from the SD release, with an engaging screen-specific commentary from the director and writers and a couple of featurettes that will be of interest to fans of the city of Las Vegas or of real-life "big score" capers. The brief set of deleted scenes is amusing if slight.