Movie Night: Ocean’s Eleven

MoviesWhen is a thief not a thief? When he’s stealing from a bigger thief. The tagline for the original Rat Pack incarnation of the picture (which, for the record, I have not seen) was “In any other town, they’d be the bad guys.” That certainly holds true in Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven revision.

On the surface, it’s strange — the “villain” in Ocean’s Eleven isn’t living off of ill-gotten gains, unlike the more explicitly villainous antagonists in another recent heist picture, The Italian Job. He’s ruthless, to be sure, and rules his world autocratically, but substantively, he’s a legitimate businessman. So why do we, as viewers, have no moral qualms about robbing him to the tune of $160 million dollars?

It’s all about Vegas, baby. In Las Vegas, the normal definitions of right and wrong tend to fade away. Face it: The entire city is based on the notion of conning people out of their money. And while the current tenants may be legitimate, the city was founded (at least in its current form) by gangsters. Profiting from gambling may be legal there, but it’ll never be particularly ethical. Of course, the same applies (much more so) to state lotteries, which have odds so atrocious that they’d be shut down in a heartbeat in Vegas. “Let me get this straight: You’ve outlawed gambling because it’s immoral, and takes advantage of poor people who don’t know better, but somehow if you do it, it’s okay?” Talk about hypocritical. Gangsters who hold political office are no more ethical than gangsters who own casinos. Can anyone think of a (good) heist picture that focuses on the theft of lottery proceeds? If not, I may have a project to start on...

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that — in addition to being brilliantly written, acted, and directed — the picture is so clearly just plain fun, both for those making it and, by extension, those of us watching it. To be fair, much the same thing is said of the original — except that in the original, said “fun” included being drunk enough that the audience never felt in on the enjoyment.

I don’t know if Soderbergh and company will be able to recapture the pure joy they did this time around, but I can’t wait to find out.


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