OCEAN'S THIRTEEN - Blu-ray review

The Ocean's films have always been about style over substance, but there has never been a shortage of substance.

DeanWink

Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney have used the "Ocean's" franchise to create their own brat-pack family. This third entry in the successful franchise finds the eleven members of the original ensemble cast teaming up again for another heist and facing off against a new antagonist and joining forces with their previous antagonist. This of course allows Al Pacino and Andy Garcia to enter a powerful cast that already includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Elliott Gould, Bernie Mac, Scott Caan and Casey Affleck. If there wasn't enough starpower already, "Ocean's Thirteen" features Ellen Barkin in a delicious performance and comic Eddie Izzard is pulled into the fray. Julia Roberts is absent in this third entry, as is Catherine Zeta-Jones. I applaud the decision to remove Roberts, but had I been among those wishing for her return, I would have hardly missed her in this entertaining and well done second sequel of "Ocean's Eleven."

Danny Ocean (George Clooney) finds himself at the bedside of his friend Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould). Reuben had a heart attack after being forced out of business by his partner Willy Bank (Al Pacino). Instead of buying out Reuben's share of the upcoming mega-casino, Bank simply forces Reuben into signing over his share of the investment and Reuben is left with nothing, except for a single ten thousand dollar casino chip. This brings about his heart attack and delivers Ocean to his bedside. Danny is less than happy with the treatment of his longtime friend and he gathers his compatriots to concoct a plan that will bring revenge for Reuben and shatter the world of Banks who is expecting another Five Diamonds award for the soon to be opening Banks Casino. The plan is to break the bank on its opening night and leave Banks with a huge deficit and also disrupt his chances at winning the expected award.

Danny brings in his close friend and right hand man Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), the eager, but forever inexperienced Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), explosives expert Bashar Tarr (Don Cheadle), the Malloy brothers Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk (Scott Caan), contortionist Yen (Shaobo Qin), aging veteran thief Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) and affable Frank Catton (Bernie Mac). Their plan requires the additional expertise of computer and casino security expert Roman Nagel (Eddie Izzard) to crack a security system created by his friend Greco Montgomery (Julian Sands). Danny and his boys need to conjure up a way to completely disrupt casino operations and fix each of the game types offered by the casino. They must have fixed dice from the Mexican factory delivered. Slot machines need to have altered hardware. Card shufflers need replaced with units that force a not-so-random order and the artificial intelligent security system will need to be disrupted to allow all of this cheating to occur.

Danny and Bashar feel that a man-made earthquake would give them three minutes of time to disrupt the Greco security system. They rent a pricey drill that was used to create a tunnel under the English Channel. When that system breaks down, they need to acquire the second large drill that was used from the French side of the tunnel. Unfortunately, they need to purchase this machine and cannot rent it. The thirty six million dollar price tag is more than they can afford and Linus comes up with the idea to have the man they recently ripped off, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) become a partner in the plot to bring down Willy Banks. He agrees, but with a steep price. Part of the deal with Benedict requires Danny and his crew to steal the diamond necklaces bought by Banks to symbolize each of the Five Diamonds awards won by his hotels.

The plan swings into action. Yen and Linus pretend to be high rollers at the casino and Linus is asked to seduce Banks' right hand man, the lovely Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin), who is a formidable foe and hardened business woman who earned her position by being as ruthless and intimidating as Banks. The Malloy brothers travel to Mexico to create a work strike and create better conditions that form a bond between the workers of the dice factory and Danny Ocean's crew. Saul poses as a reviewer for the Five Diamond Award as many people make the actual reviewer's (David Paymor) stay as unpleasant as possible and completely sink any chance Bank has at winning another Five Diamond award. A few twists and turns occur, but Danny and his guys have their way and get revenge on Banks for his treatment of Reuben, who has recovered from the heart attack.

I enjoyed "Ocean's Thirteen" more than I did the first sequel, "Ocean's Twelve." The big heist was more far-fetched than before, but the series has always done a solid job of handling exposition with storytelling so that it becomes both believable and is done convincingly. Each of the character's talents are put to good use here and each of the actors are given full opportunity to shine. Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Pacino and Cheadle are the stars of the film and they do not disappoint. The supporting cast of Barkin, Mac, Izzard, Reiner and others are also solid. It is not easy pulling off an ensemble film of this magnitude and director Steven Soderbergh and his team of writers (Brian Koppelman and David Levien) deserve a lot of credit for pulling another Ocean's film off in convincing fashion. The series has not become stale and continues to entertain and given the enormous cast, that says a lot.

Soderbergh, Clooney, Damon and Pitt are the headliners of the "Ocean's Pack" and they have created a genuine bond of friendship that shows in each frame. Along with the rest of the cast, there exists a definite chemistry that gives the impression that Clooney and Soderbergh could create "Ocean's" films for as long as they have the inclination to do so. This is the purported final film of the series, but everybody has done a marvelous job of making each film an entertaining experience that brings back the style and attitude of the Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin "Brat Pack" experiences of decades ago. It is extremely rare to have an ensemble film of this magnitude work as well as this one and it is even rarer when you consider it is the third outing of this cast and crew. Something special has developed from these films and if this is the last movie of the series, it will be unfortunate.

The Ocean's films have always been about style over substance, but there has never been a shortage of substance. So many of the actors featured in the film just reek of coolness. Clooney, Pacino and Garcia are three men who have a style and swagger that is hard to match. Gould, Damon, Pitt and Cheadle are no lightweights either. Then you have the son of James Caan, Scott Caan and the affable Bernie Mac. The movie has a style that reminds you of something produced in the sixties. The title graphics and some of the split-screen moments embody a past decade where cool and style was far more important than expensive special effects and flashy imagery. This is an entertaining story that is fun, stylish and cool. It has a dozen or more very capable actors that never compete for screentime and work together like a brotherhood. If this is truly the final film in the series, it does out on a high note.

Video:

Considering this film is less than a year old, it comes as no surprise that "Ocean's Thirteen" looks very good on the high definition Blu-ray format. The film is given a very intentional look representative of something filmed in the Seventies, but that only adds to the visual splendor and does not detract from the vivid colors of the Las Vegas strip or the high detail available by this VC-1 encoded film. This 2.4:1 widescreen film is nicely detailed and truly brings the neon lights and extravagant casinos to life. Soderbergh's stylistic approach works well and there is never a moment when "Ocean's Thirteen" disappoints in the visual department. Colors are very bright and perfectly saturated. There is perhaps no more colorful place on Earth than Las Vegas and the town is as colorful as ever here. Detail is also very good and clothing threads, stone textures and facial features are all perfectly captured by the high definition transfer. Source materials were pristine and I could not recall any memorable flaws in either the print used or the digital transfer. I wouldn't say that "Ocean's Thirteen" is among the absolute best Blu-ray titles, but it is certainly above average.

Sound:

It was somewhat disheartening to discover that "Ocean's Thirteen" supplied only a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and no TrueHD or Uncompressed PCM soundtrack. However, after watching the film, I was quite pleased with how it sounded and felt that the multi-channel surround mix perfectly captured the style intended by Soderbergh and the sounds of Las Vegas. Ambient effects were abound in the rear surrounds as slot machines and other casino sounds could be cleanly heard. I've been to the Atlantic City casinos and know of how enveloping an experience they are to the ears and this Dolby Digital mix and the film nicely captures that experience. The musical score by David Holmes pays homage to the Seventies, but is of itself a modern sounding score that is warm and detailed. The .1 LFE channel rumbles quite heavily during the energentic earthquake sequences and the amount of tremble with the bass during these scenes rivaled any other film's usage of the low frequency effects channel. Dialogue was as smooth as the actors. French and Spanish 5.1 channel soundtracks were also included.

Extras:

The high definition releases of "Ocean's Eleven" features an exclusive commentary track and feature documentary. The Commentary by Director Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien is a very technical commentary, but it gives a ton of insight into the making of the film, various changes in the story and characters and other juicy nuggets of information that make this an overly informative track that is entertaining in its details. The Masters of the Heist (44:02) is another high definition exclusive that looks at four actual high tech capers that actually happened and detail how they were performed. The capers were not actually high tech and each of the criminals eventually failed, but it was quite intriguing. This was a very nice documentary and certainly made the Blu-ray or HD-DVD releases far more attractive than their standard definition stablemate. I certainly recommend taking the forty five minutes to enjoy these actual stories that make the heists of the "Ocean" series a little more believable. The involvement of Penn and Teller made this all the more entertaining.

The feature Vegas: An Opulent Illusion (22:47) combines the storyline of "Ocean's 13" with the grand world of Las Vegas and how Sin City caters to the high rollers and strives to always become bigger and better. The Las Vegas strip is the main focus of the feature, but there is a cross promotion with "Ocean's 13." I found this to be an interesting feature and will one day need to travel to Las Vegas. Jerry Weintraub Walk and Talk (2:25) features the Hollywood producer of the Ocean's franchise giving a VIP tour of the set used to create the film's grandious Bank's Casino. This was nicely done, but way too short. Finally, some Additional Scenes (4:36) is a short collection of excised bits and are shown in glorious high definition. The deleted footage does add some to the film, but it does not necessarily need to be in the finished product. Some of them dealt with the dancing around the omissions of Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta Jones. The supplements were nicely done, but I certainly feel that the high definition releases are the only way to go thanks to the added materials found on them.

Closing Comments:

Steven Soderbergh returns to direct one of the most powerful ensemble casts ever filmed. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and one of my personal favorites Don Cheadle join a number of other returning cast members that are joined by one of the all-time greats, Al Pacino. This third film in the "Ocean's" saga is just as stylish as the previous films, but a better film than the second entry and perhaps a proper sendoff to the franchise. The story is nicely written and the characters never seem to get old. I'm quite impressed with how well the cast works together. This is a good film and it turns out to be a good Blu-ray release that benefits over the standard definition release with some bonus features found only on the Blu-ray and HD-DVD versions. The picture quality and sound quality are both very good, but not quite reference material. I was very pleased with this release and have no problems recommending it to others.

Ratings

Video
9
Audio
9
Extras
7
Film Value
8