Lewis Milestone’s 1960 film, Ocean’s 11, was unlike anything the United States had seen during that era. This wasn’t because of its theatrical elements, but for the actors that it brought together. The famous Rat Pack – Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop – headlined an all-star cast. They were not just celebrities, but gods of the pop culture scene. Their chemistry made Ocean’s 11 an instant classic. While the movie itself lacked depth and a strong plot, it excelled in star power. Watching the film was like giving the American public a sneak peak into the Hollywood lifestyle that these men actually lived. At times, it seemed like the movie itself was pointless, because the audience just wanted to see these five American icons interact with each other.
Then came the remake of this classic: Ocean’s Eleven. In 2001, Oscar-nominated director Steven Soderbergh was presented with the idea to reenact the casino robbery caper. Ocean’s Eleven did wonderfully at the box office and holds a “Certified Fresh” rating of 82% by Rotten Tomatoes. George Clooney and Brad Pitt led the jam-packed ensemble, and the movie did not disappoint when it came to explosions and high-octane action. What the 1960 film missed in theatrics, the 2001 slammed home. The great plot helped ease the focus of the actors’ celebrity status that the original movie used to its advantage to attract its audience.
These two movies share three things in common. They both have the same name, with just a little tweak in appearance, they both have all-star casts, and they both have similar production styles. Other than that, however, the two films are complete opposites.
When examining the differences between these two films, the audiences must consider the time period, the technology, the style of production, and a couple of key scenes that define each movie. The actual time periods of the two films are obviously different, but there is not much comparison when you size up Frank Sinatra and company to George Clooney and his ten comrades. While this is no jab at the impressive career Clooney has built, Sinatra was a worldwide figure who was known to sweep women off their feet with one-liners, witty charm, and undeniable charisma. At the time of the film, his music career had taken off and he was America’s most loveable celebrity. Similar praise can be applied to Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and the rest of the Rat Pack. In the remake, George Clooney tries his best, but he’s no Sinatra. Supporting cast members like Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and the late Bernie Mac are great accomplices to help out Clooney, but their total body of work can’t compare to that of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop.
What also needs to be looked at in this category is chemistry. The Rat Pack was a group of best friends. In the 2001 remake, Brad Pitt and George Clooney fail to connect as well as their predecessors did, despite being well-known friends in real life. Going deeper into character relations, the relationships between World War II veterans offer more to the audience than the bonds between seasoned con men. While I admit it is fun to see Matt Damon use sleight of hand to rob stock investors, you find yourself more attached to the older men of the original film who are having fun trying to pull a heist in which they have no experience. The audience isn’t really sure if they can pull it off, which adds to the drama in the closing frames. In this time period category, the Oscar goes to the original.
Next, we have to examine the technology offered in the film. Obviously, the 2001 production had better cameras, the use of CGI, and digital production. The original was no slouch when it came to technology for its time period, though. While Clooney and Pitt pull off an extremely lucrative heist that involves ruining security cameras, faking being SWAT team members, setting off an EMP on the strip of Las Vegas, and blowing the bolts off of a vault door, the 1960’s movie is impressive for its time period. Still, at the end of the day, I do not think you can make an argument worth listening to for the older movie’s technology prowess after watching Pitt and company walk out of the casino with millions of dollars in their hand and Andy Garcia’s character watch a dubbed version of the events. We will have to give the remake the proper due for its use of technology.
Another aspect, arguably the most important one, is the production style. In the 1960’s Ocean’s, the movie was less of a true film by definition, attempting to survive on the Rat Pack’s star prowess. For this argument, you have to look past the Rat Pack and see the film for its worth. The only plot building we truly see is within the group. We do not see any real character arc from any of the main characters and no genuine emotion until the final 20 minutes when one of their crew members has a heart attack. By that time, it was tough for an audience to develop a true connection to the group. One enjoyable thing about the original production was how each actor played off of the other. Like I previously mentioned, the chemistry shared is undeniable and it showed on the screen. The producers knew the actors were not grade “A,” but they put them in positions to succeed. In the 2001 film, the production team tried to copy this appeal and added their spin to it. The biggest gap is found in the actors’ chemistry. Unlike the original’s harmonious group, Clooney’s group was a bunch of cons brought together by two men. It was a good attempt to deviate from the original plot and add some humor, but it took away the synergy of the production. Where the remake thrives is through its actual plot. With so many twists, turns, and dips, it keeps the audience on their toes. This energy can be seen from the minute Clooney gets blackballed to Carl Reiner passing out from an apparent heart attack (which is a great nod to the original) to the final scene of the Eleven enjoying the Fountains of Bellagio. This is much better than the dry appeal and lack of storytelling that makes the original Ocean’s hard to watch at times, where the effect of an all-star cast gets tiresome after 45 minutes. It’s easy to say that the remake holds a secure crown on the production side.
We have to break down a couple of key scenes to give a final verdict. The first and most iconic of the series in both movies are the meetings when the crews assemble to announce the plan. The Rat Pack thrives in an atmosphere like this. The camera does an excellent job of conveying the theme of camaraderie. Dean Martin’s character originally disagrees with them going through with the heist, but after a couple wisecracking jokes, the group has an “all for one and one for all chant.” This group synergy is characterized by the camera panning from member to member and then showing each hand being placed in the middle. In the remake, the group synergy is lacking. The meeting that takes place is completely different. It seems like the directors did not see the importance in this scene. All of the group members are separated in a living room, with individual shots of their reactions and comments. The only two that are constantly in the frame together are Pitt and Clooney.
The next scene that needs to be compared is the actual heist. While both movies have the con men rob multiple casinos at the same time, the production behind them is extremely different. Although both groups successfully pull off their grand scheme, the Rat Pack has this sense of calmness. They wrote the book on cool, and it’s all about going with the flow for these gentlemen, even despite the realization that they lost their fortune. Neither movie does a great job of portraying the risk of the heist, but at the end of the original, it seems like it is not about the money. They are all in it for the fun. The production does a great job of showing us the characters as bigger than the moment, even after they lose their money. In the remake, you’re left wondering what would have happened if Clooney’s crew failed. Would they have gone into a downward spiral? Would they be able to cope with not succeeding? In this film, it is all money driven. Each character worried about their cut of the pie. Clooney’s crew is so far ahead of the game, and the antagonist does not stand a chance against these expert con artists. The beauty of the Rat Pack’s film was the idea of them losing a step and trying to see if they could still had it, and even when they didn’t, they were still the coolest cats on the block.
The final scene that we need to dissect is the final frame of each movie. Plot wise, we have two different results. Our original Rat Pack does not get away with the money, while Clooney’s gang does. While these are obvious differences, the real difference is how the camera portrays our con men. Ironically, the films flip the primary traits that defined each group. In the 1960’s film, the last scene shows the group walking down Las Vegas Boulevard with the realization that they have gotten away with their robbery but not the money. The group synergy from before is nowhere to be found as the gentlemen walk in a staggered straight line behind one another. The camera does a great job of portraying this broken group by capturing each individual by themselves. The “all for one, and one for all” theme is not as evident as before. The last shot of the film is a medium close up of Sammy Davis Jr. singing his famous “E-e-eleven” song that he wrote for the film. In the final scenes of the 2001 film, we find them in front of Bellagio Fountain after Clooney and Pitt have gotten away with the money and the rest of the group has left the hotel. The camera begins panning down the line for a medium close up of each character taking in the beauty of the fountains and reflecting on their success of the night. It’s a special scene because before, the characters are seen as human rather than con men. “Clair de Lune,” translated to mean “moonlight,” softly plays in the background. As each man takes in the moonlight, we see a final wide-angle shot of all eleven before each man drifts off into the night and back to his everyday life. Throughout this entire frame, not one word is said, just looks of happiness and reassurance from one another that they have had a job well done. It truly is a beautiful shot and is Soderbergh putting his own artistic stamp on the movie.
Lastly, the original film lacks someone as comedically talented as the later movie’s Bernie Mac. While Mac was more familiar with leading roles where he could dominate a film with his comedic brilliance, he shines in a backseat role in the 2001 film. His most memorable moments were at the beginning of the heist, such as his scene with Damon and Garcia in a back office in the casino that left audiences in tears of laughter. “What you want from me man? Want me to get on the table and dance? Like for me to shine your shoes? Want me to smile at you? ‘Cause you definitely ain’t gon’ let me deal the cards. Might as well call it whitejack!”
1960’s Ocean’s 11 and 2011′s Ocean’s Eleven both offer something worth watching the length of their run times. Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack were icons of their time and audiences paid mostly just to see the entertainment they brought to the big screen. What the film lacked in substance and acting was trumped by the 11′s star power. Sinatra’s crew formed a likable bond that connected with the audience. Meanwhile, George Clooney’s group of well-rounded con men took Las Vegas by storm before you could even see a cloud in the sky. The ultimate difference between the films is going is the viewer’s opinion. While the original movie does not hold much value in special effects in today’s cinema, it is a classic for its storytelling and the bond between its characters. The remake takes the original and uses it to make its own great story. Whether Sinatra and the Rat Pack are the better fit for your cinema taste than Clooney and company is up to you; my choice is going to be the original.
Ryan is a part time contributor to The Reelist and a Senior at Kennesaw State outside of Atlanta. You can follow him at @iOnlyWearNike.