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SIDE EFFECTS
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Rolling the dice with Ocean's 11, a big, fat Vegas heist flick
By Stephen Rebello
(Movieline, January 2002)

Cut from original interview:

On the Ocean's 11 cast:
There's a lot of expectation here, and Ted Griffin wrote a great script that's genuinely witty without being glib. There's a real knack to performing with apparent ease, but they all seemed to understand that they needed to bring their A-game. I said, "If you don't, you're going to get shown-up either by someone around you or the audience."... Going in, there was a lot of like, 'OK, who's going to be the asshole?' Didn't happen. There wasn't a buzz-kill in the bunch. They were all having such a great time on it... Matt [Damon] said, "It's so much fun to be part of a flying wedge but not feel I'm at the front of it." Coming off three movies in which he'd played the lead and had to work every day, he loved being part of the team as opposed to having to shoulder the whole movie. George and Brad have slightly larger roles but they very much felt it was a team effort... The cast was very self-sufficient. They all knew what they're doing. I think they were sympathetic to my day-to-day struggles and were very, very low maintenance. They recognized that it was not as fun an experience for me as it was for them. It was just impossible for me to be as loose as I might be normally. I was trying to wrap my head around how to physically put this movie together.

On George Clooney:
He's a better actor than he thinks he is. He's now starting to build a body of films that indicate that he has very good taste. He's really funny in a seven-minute performance in Welcome to Collinwood, this movie he and I have produced for our company Section 8. It's a glimpse of something he doesn't normally do or is asked to do. And when the time comes, he's going to pull one out that's really going to surprise people.

On Carl Reiner:
Do you know that nobody left the set when they were done because they were afraid they were going to miss Carl being hilarious and cool?

On shooting in Las Vegas and the Bellagio Hotel:
I was dreading it. We were going to be there six weeks and I just thought, Oh, boy. It went smoothly. I didn't gamble a nickel, either. Separate from the idea of robbing casinos, if it wasn't Las Vegas, you don't really have a movie. I don't know if without The Bellagio Hotel, the movie would work. It's the opulence of the hotel itself, its upscale look. The Bellagio is like a character in the movie. I was so lucky that Jerry [Weintraub, the producer] was able to get the incredible access that we needed.

On the challenge:
This project all started with Lorenzo di Bonaventura saying, "Can I send you a script?," hearing it was Ocean's 11 and thinking, Good idea for a remake. There's a good premise at the heart of that movie I felt never get exploited. When I heard it was Ted Griffin's script, I said, 'Send it over today.' Those are hard movies to write. Well, now having the movie, I found it really difficult. I was constantly confronted with the irony that here I was making a movie that was just supposed to be fun and not about anything, but it just beat my brains out. It was a struggle trying to learn a new language and to shoot in a style I don't normally work within. I never felt fluent. I never felt comfortable. The good news is that it's not necessarily a bad thing to feel like you're constantly being challenged and that you may not win.

On the research:
Ghostbusters. When I saw it, it was amazing to me that a movie with that sort of physical scale feels so tossed-off, with such understated performances and obvious generosity among all the performers. I thought a lot about The Hot Rock, too, because that's a movie I like a lot. From a technical level, I kept watching movies by Fincher, Spielberg, McTiernan, people who know how to orchestrate physical action the way I like to see it. I kept looking at lens length, lens height, when they moved the camera, when they cut, how they would use their extras, how they structured movements within shots that carried you to the next movement and the next. In their movies, you always know exactly where you are, no matter how fast you cut. That's a real gift and it's innate. It sounds pretentious but with Ocean's, I was hoping to combine that visual strength -- that masculine, muscular style of filmmaking, with the feminine, a more gentle, emotional approach to character and performance. If you could combine those two, that would be a really interesting hybrid. Or not. But that's what I wanted to try.

On the style:
Traffic was a different way of shooting, a different way of seeing things. Working in that sort of run-and-gun style is a lot easier than this was. The last hour of Ocean's 11 doesn't have a lot of repeated shots. It's a series of interlocking shots and sequences and, when I studied the filmmakers who I thought worked well in that style, I noticed they didn't repeat shots that often. Each piece is a new one. I thought that would be a good thing to try and emulate.

On the finale:
I wanted that whole end of the film to be elegant. I'm a big Debussy fan and Clair du lune has always been one of my favorite pieces, but I put a special thanks in the final credits to Philip Kaufman because he uses that same music to similar effect in The Right Stuff. I know a lot of people will see the movie and go, "Hey!," so I thought I'd better cop to the fact that I know I've stolen it. To me it was organic because they play that kind of music at those fountains all the time. David Hall did the score and he really nailed it.

On speculation regarding Hollywood's promulgation of violence:
My concern about this kind of stuff is less that it's having some sort of influence on an ideological level, that people are getting ideas from watching these movies than I am that we become anaesthetized to events like that, that our responses are stunted or distorted or delayed. The sort of ILM aspect of those events was very disorienting, especially when they chose to back off so that you didn't actually see people jumping out of buildings. That was an image that you couldn't deny. Our ideas of what is far-fetched have been completely eradicated. All bets are off now and we're living like almost every other country in the world. My fear is that it's going to turn into the '50s again in America. You're amazed when you hear a story of some individual's courage and then you're disgusted when you see somebody on TV espousing some reactionary, fascistic attitude about how this should be dealt with. It has brought out the best and worst in people. It's a flawed society, but we live in a free and open one in which people get to dissent, to say what they want to about all of it. Do we have imperialist tendencies overseas? Absolutely. But you can also make the argument that, with some exceptions, we're the most open society on the planet.

On Traffic's impact on the drug war:
Oh, for, like, a week. The best-case scenario for that movie, I thought, would be a couple of weeks of Op-Ed pieces and late-night TV discussions, then we'd go back to wherever we were. You could make Traffic every two years. I never thought it was going to change anything. What surprised me is that it found an audience.

On where he keeps his Oscar:
In my apartment in the room that functions as my office on a shelf with other award certificates and other things. If you said to me, "That didn't actually happen," I would go, "You know, I thought so." It was totally surreal and I was totally unprepared.

Read the full Movieline interview here.

 


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