Hollywood Rewind | Ocean’s Eleven: A witty, entertaining heist film led by a charming George Clooney

Witty, sharp and thoroughly entertaining, Ocean’s 11 might be the most frivolous fun director Steven Soderbergh has had.

English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon had long ago said something sharp, precise and universal about the experience of reading books: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few are to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” This can be true of any art form, and rings more truly for movies than anything else.
Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 heist dramedy Ocean’s Eleven falls in the second category; the George Clooney and Brad Pitt feature is to be swallowed, and one does that with pleasure. The very definition of a popcorn entertainer, Ocean’s Eleven is a stylish multistarrer that allows enough space for its lead stars to shine and others to have a blast. The writing is witty and to-the-point, the film gallops gracefully at a runtime of almost two hours.
Out on parole, Danny Ocean contrives to pull off an elaborate crime — a heist at a casino. He begins recruiting, starting with close associate and partner-in-crime Rusty (Brad Pitt). Danny just has a couple of rules he wants his cronies to abide by: Do not hurt anyone, and don’t steal from the one who do not deserve it, very Robin Hood-esque of him. The calmness that Danny conducts himself with sets the tune for the entire narrative — it’s leisurely, but never boring. Just like Danny himself then, who comes across as a chill guy, with something interesting always up his sleeve.
With a bevy of actors featuring in the cast, one would think that egos ran high on the sets of the movie; actors trying to steal more screen time and the works. However, lead star Clooney had earlier told GQ that everyone gelled together well and seemed to enjoy the experience of working with so many artistes on one project — “The funny thing about that gang is there was literally no ego involved in it. And there’s a funny thing you see, and you can see it in the way the scenes play. There was no actor in those scenes trying to steal scenes. They’re all kind of actively trying to hand it to the other guy. There was this generosity of spirit, and throwing things away in such a way that it’s so easy-going and so fun.” And it is this dynamic that one witnesses while watching the film, especially the kind of camaraderie Clooney, Pitt and Matt Damon shared with each other.
Perhaps what can rival the movie’s fun quotient is its equally entertaining behind-the-scene stories. One particular one which never seems to get old is how Clooney convinced Julia Roberts to be a part of the project. Julia, at the time of the making of Ocean’s Eleven, was apparently getting paid the handsome sum of $20 million per movie. So imagine her surprise when her colleague George sent a $20 bill to her as an ice-breaker. Yes, the now fast friends did not know each other at all prior to the film’s shooting. They knew of each other of course, but that was that.
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“I remember Julia, I didn’t know her. I’d never met her, and she was making $20 million a film. And we just talked Brad [Pitt] into doing it, and Matt into doing it, and we wanted Julia to do it. So I put a $20 bill on the script and I sent it to her, and I said, ‘I hear you get 20 a picture now,” Clooney said in the same interview. This is the vibe of the movie throughout its duration of two hours — funny, smart and charming.
Ocean’s Eleven was received well by both critics and the audience, and ended up raking in $450 million of its comparatively modest $85 million budget.