Oceans 11: Is it the best casino movie ever?

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With a cast as glitzy as The Strip and a story as playful as sin, Ocean’s Eleven is undoubtedly Las Vegas’ silver screen equivalent. It ditches the gritty drama and violent tales of other heist films, and instead flirts with Vegas’ frisky underbelly of high-stakes gambling, one-night stands, and all-night benders.

It might lack the insight of Martin Scorsese’s Casino or the familiarity of The Hangover, but Ocean’s Eleven stands alone as the smartest casino movie of all time. Here’s why.

It’s About The Odds

Ocean’s Eleven is about more than just a group of guys robbing a casino. Sure, robbing Terry Benedict’s casinos forms the foundation of the plot, and the motivation driving George Clooney’s titular Danny Ocean is flimsy at best, but it’s hard to ignore the obvious gambling undertones shaping the outcome of the tale.

The whole heist plan, regardless of the players involved, has a gigantic house edge: even if they manage to pull it off, Benedict will probably come out on top over the long run. That’s a common theme throughout the movie. The biggest challenge for the characters isn’t breaking into the unbreakable vault and walking out the front door with $150 million: it’s surviving the Benedict onslaught after the heist.

If you’ve stepped into a casino, you’d know the story all too well. Even when you’ve come out on top, have you really won? Will you be back? Will the allure of the win drag you back in through the doors? In the case of Ocean and his team, there was no way they were going to return to Vegas so soon after the heist, yet the risk of the gamble was constantly on their minds.

As it turned out, Lady Luck was on their side. They bet against the house, and won.

It’s About The Fun Of The Ride

Las Vegas is portrayed negatively in films, particularly over the past few decades. While The Hangover was packed with laughs, it reminded those of us that have visited the city just how miserable the “day after” can be. Casino was wrought with confronting themes of addiction, while Vegas Vacation was…well, not very good.

Ocean’s Eleven, however, never takes itself too seriously. It’s just for the fun of it. It’s a vice. That’s why it compliments the city itself so well, and is so well placed next to the thrill and excitement of visiting a casino. The film is about knowing and acknowledging the odds, taking the ride, and having a blast while doing it.

Few casino and Las Vegas-based films are as whimsical as Ocean’s Eleven is when it comes to gambling and the odds. It reminds us that sometimes it’s worth taking a risk, even if the odds are against you, and that you should never bet more than you’re willing to lose. There are plenty of themes in Ocean’s Eleven, but they’re never thrown in your face. The whole film is really just about having fun and living a little.

It Actually Feels Like A Trip To Vegas

The good parts of a trip to Vegas, at least.

Ocean’s Eleven is beautifully shot, constantly honing in on iconic locations along The Strip. It superbly balances the bright lights of casino floors with the seductive ringing of the slots, successfully recreating the joyous feeling of stepping into a casino for the first time.

There’s also the general nature and tone of the story, dialogue and characters. It always seems to be about just having fun. Danny Ocean’s relationship with ex-wife Tess is like a mischievous Vegas fling. Brad Pitt’s Rusty Ryan is the bingeing friend who doesn’t know when to stop. Matt Damon’s Linus Caldwell is the naive younger sibling whose cherry is being popped with a night at the tables.

It’s like the script was written by two friends winding down in a Las Vegas airport lounge after a wild weekend.

It offers some wise poker advice

At the start of the film we see Brad Pitt’s Rusty Ryan hosting a game of five-card draw poker with popular (at the time) television actors. Ryan, in trying to teach the actors how to play the game, becomes frustrated and leaves the room for a drink, only to return to find Danny Ocean sitting at the table with the other players. A new game begins, and Ryan, while clearly in cahoots with Ocean to trick the players into going all-in, offers some sound advice useful for any poker player.

“Leave emotion at the door.”

Ryan makes Ocean out to be an emotional player with a vendetta, tempting the other players to raise Ocean’s bet. While Ocean ends up with the better hand and wins the pool, Ryan’s message was as much about Danny’s play style as it was about the actors sitting around the table: don’t trust anyone, leave your emotions at the door, and keep your cards close to your chest.