Shit Shit Shit

So, I watched the Ocean’s series again recently.

If we judge the idea of our “favorite” movies by the number of times we’ve watched them, there’s a very strong argument to be made that Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, and Ocean’s Thirteen are three of my favorite movies of all time. Certainly, they’re movies that I probably watch once a year if not more often than that, despite not owning them. (They’re always streaming somewhere, somehow; you just have to look and see where.)

It’s neither the writing nor the acting that brings me back to these movies over and over again, as good as both are throughout the trilogy. Thirteen is a bit ropey in terms of writing, but apparently the version people see on screen is very, very different than the original screenplay, being the result of significant after-the-fact edits and reshoots in order to make something that moved faster and had a significantly different tone; when you know that, you can see the joins pretty easily on a rewatch. Instead, it’s the sense of style that both Soderbergh and soundtrack maven David Holmes bring to proceedings.

(Holmes’ music — his score, but also the tracks from external sources that he brings in, especially in Twelve, the ultimate style-over-substance installment, and my favorite of the three — cannot be overestimated in how much it impacts the final product in these movies; I’d argue that Thirteen only gets away with working because of his contributions.)

The concept of “cool” is, at best, a fool’s errand, because it’s so subjective and equally so changeable — what’s in today is, as everyone who watches Project Runway knows all too well, out tomorrow. Despite that, there’s an inescapable cool to Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies that, the more I rewatch, seems to come down to the purposefully relaxed feel of all three movies. For heist movies, it’s impressive how not tense these films really are, how the audience is never really able to believe for more than a couple minutes that any of our heroes is actually in trouble. Instead, each of the three feel like you’re getting to hang out with a bunch of people who have just worked out some cosmic truth and are just breezily moving through the world in an entirely different way than you and I, and you get to ride in their slipstream for a few hours.

What’s instructive, though, is to see the way that Ocean’s Eight, the after-the-fact spin-off/sequel to the trilogy centering around Danny Ocean’s previously unmentioned sister, fails to match up to its predecessors. Again, special attention should be paid to the music, with Daniel Pemberton (the man behind killer scores for both The Man from UNCLE and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse) understanding the assignment, but director Gary Ross just fails to make the movie as weightless and stress-free as Soderbergh did the earlier trilogy, and as a result, it drags and ultimately fails to match the energy of what came before. You get the feeling that everyone involved isn’t just trying, but visibly trying too hard, and that’s just not what people come to Ocean’s for.

(Of course, now I want to re-watch Soderbergh’s own Logan Lucky, which I suspect might more readily match Eight. Hmm…)

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