Script Review: OCEANS ELEVEN
by Darwin Mayflower
WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS!
(07/17/00) NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.
If Im not mistaken, I saw OCEANS ELEVEN when I was twelve with my father. I havent seen it since and it now exists in my mind like a famous cityscape seen at night, from a distance, covered ominously with fluffy, thick mist. I can still make out a few of the famous buildings, but its hazy and distorted.
Only three things remain in my mind: its a heist movie in Vegas; the Rat Pack starred; and Sammy Davis Jr. played a singing garbage man.
There was no crooning trash man in the remakes script (unfortunately, since it has to be one of the most bizarre, Lynchian images ever onscreen). Were in Vegas, though. And three casinos are about to be ripped off simultaneously.
Like the original movie, the remake will be chockfull of delectable stars. George Clooney plays the leader, Danny Ocean, and around him well find: Don Cheadle, Brad Pitt, Mark Wahlberg, Bill Murray, Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis.
The first draft was written by Steve Carpenter and then given a full overhaul by Ted Griffin (RAVENOUS).
OCEANS ELEVEN, despite its provenience and its star power, is a caper flick. The guys get the idea for the scam, prepare, and pull it off.
You need two things to succeed in that genre: characters who are at least marginally interesting and a crime that knocks us out of our seats.
Griffin is talented enough to pull it off.
This OCEANS script reminded me of three others Ive read (one of which was reviewed here).
ENTRAPMENT, KINGS RANSOM and THE SCORE.
In KINGS RANSOM, which John Woo is suppose to make, two friends "from the ol neighborhood" rob a museum. How they rob it is inventive and exciting. But the characters are so one-dimensional and tiresome they drag the script down with them.
THE SCORE had nothing going for it, as I said, and one of the things that angered me was that when the characters finally pull the "big steal" the writers dont even bother to give us something sensational or significant.
ENTRAPMENT, though, written by Lord Prolific Ron Bass, gets everything right. The script takes off running with a high-rise rip-off and never slows up. One, two, three explosive action scenes are tossed off like scraps of meat. They all lead us to the finale, and its actually worth it this time around. Ron sets up a museum robbery so splendidly thrilling you heave a sigh of relief when its over.
Most important of all is that Ron can write people. Real people who breathe on the page. ENTRAPMENT is, above all else, a love story -- and one of the best May-December romances youll ever read. (It should be noted none of this made it to the screen, thanks to a certain wig-wearing star.)
Which brings us to OCEANS ELEVEN. I dont think Ted reinvented the action-heist vehicle the way Ron did with his ENTRAPMENT script. But he does know what hes doing and I think OCEANS ELEVEN is slick entertainment that absolutely delivers.
There have been some grumblings because the script doesnt stick to its origins. I cant see how Ted Griffin could have. Vegas isnt the place it used to be. (Ted knows this, because he clearly knows Vegas; Ive been there and this man understands its feel.) And with advanced technology what it is, where you cant steal anything without complication, the movie has to mature along with the vaults, security cameras and good ol computer wizardry of the day.
(By the way, theres a beautiful scene in the script where were given the "history of robbery" in the casinos. I hope they film it as is, because after being in these casinos and seeing the security, it put a big smile on my face.)
OCEAN'S ELEVEN is nothing new...but that doesn't mean it can't be effective. AIR FORCE ONE is DIE HARD in a plane. Does that mean it wasn't an entertaining movie?
None of the characters really stand out. But I suppose it would be besides the point in an ensemble cast. Considering how intricate the plot is here, I think Ted Griffin did as good a job as anyone could have with individualism and dialogue. They each have a distinct personality without veering off into Bruckheimer-esque nuttiness. They carry the plot along and never get in its way. And we also have to remember that these characters are all going to be embodied by great actors. So even the most bland among them will now have added energy to it. (The only underwritten character is Oceans ex-wife. And since Julia Roberts will be playing her -- expect it to be expanded greatly.)
When you read a heist film (or some sort of action film) what you want to see is something you would never have thought of. OCEAN has a heist that fits that criteria. It's just realistic (and well-written) enough to impress, and though I doubt that it would ever work in this great, heavy-security world of ours, it's as exhilarating for us as it is for the characters.
I have two complaints (and they're small ones):
1 - The script, at 143 pages, is probably a little too long. Showing us less of how they set up the scam would not kill its effect.
2 - The wrong man is playing Danny Ocean. I have no idea who Bruce Willis is playing. But I think he'd be extraordinary as the cool-as-ice, indifferent-to-worry, ultra-suave Danny. Clooney is a fine actor. But he has the tendency to be one-note and gruff. Willis has an infectious, affable charm.
I dont know if its written in any screenplay manuals, but it should be: Character Above All Else. It doesnt matter if youre writing a six-hundred-million-dollar sci-fi epic. Or a two-million-dollar talking-head flick. Character Above All Else. You can have great action in your movie, but if it involves people we dont care about, its like watching a TOM AND JERRY cartoon.
James Cameron knows this (check out ALIENS and TITANIC or even the underrated, Cameron-penned STRANGE DAYS).
Ted Griffin knows this, too. He knows that these characters have to prepare and interact for eighty pages and scam for thirty.
Steven Soderbergh is directing the remake (moving into it right after TRAFFIC) and another writer is already on the project. So I make no claims OCEANS ELEVEN will still work when it hits the screen.
Clooney has said he wants "one more twist -- one more scam" in the early part of the movie.
While I agree thats not the worst idea in the world, I think I liked that this OCEANS showed just how hard it is -- and what it would take (if life was a movie) -- to pull something this big off.
When Danny is first setting up the deal, he tells his men flat-out: its impossible. Ted Griffin sets himself to be shot in the foot writing something like that.
But his script, like Danny, is worry-free, smooth...and comes out on top.
-- Darwin Mayflower.
Copyright © by Screenwriting, screenplays, and writing All Right Reserved.