If I had to choose a candidate for the most disappointing sequel of all time, it would probably be Ocean's Twelve. More so than Jaws 2 and even Batman and Robin (the 1997 film), it was one big letdown. What made it worse was that this profoundly bad movie was made by the same people who had made the fantastic original, Ocean's Eleven (itself loosely based on the 1960 Frank Sinatra vehicle of the same name). It was for that reason that, despite what looked to be a very good film from the trailers, I approached Ocean's Thirteen with some trepidation. Fortunately, I had no reason to be worried.
Director Steven Soderbergh and his ensemble (ranging from Don Cheadle to Elliot Gould) are back in top form. The cast and crew describe the movie as "the one we should have made last time" I can tell you upfront that it is indeed the movie that Ocean's Twelve should have been. While Ocean's Twelve gave short shrift to Soderbergh's gifted cast, focusing too much on Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty (Brad Pitt), every member of the cast gets his time in the spotlight in Ocean's Thirteen. Particularly good are Carl Reiner as con man Saul Bloom, who pulls off his best impersonation yet, and Don Cheadle as Cockney explosives expert Basher Tarr, who must again accomplish the impossible. Welcome additions to the cast are Al Pacino as wonderfully over the top villain Willie Bank, who cheats Reuben (Elliot Gould) out his share in a new casino, and Ellen Barkin, his assistant Abigail Sponder, who proves once and for all that "women of a certain age" can be sexy. Indeed, it is Willie Bank who sets the plot in motion, with Danny Ocean and his crew seeking revenge on the traitorous casino owner for not only double crossing Reuben, but causing him to have a heart attack.
What makes Ocean's Thirteen all the more better is that it is thoroughly a throwback to the old caper films of the Sixties. From its opening credits to its closing credits, it invokes the spirit of such movies as Topkapi and How to Steal a Million. Like the caper films of old, Ocean's Thirteen does away with exposition and gets us into the action as soon as possible. At the same time Ocean's Thirteen has a complex plot suitable to the archetypal caper movie (which I am sure will be a source of complaint for many of today's critics). Best of all, this is a movie that knows not to take itself too seriously. After all, in any good caper film we expect the heroes to be shrewd, devious, and fun loving.
For some time I genuinely feared that caper movies were a lost art. It seemed that the last significant number of truly great caper films were made in the Seventies, with very few being released since then (the fairly good Sneakers from 1992 being an example). With Ocean's Eleven Steven Soderbergh proved that truly good caper movies can be made. And with Ocean's Thirteen he proves it can still be done.