The blockbuster film Ocean’s Eleven, released in 2001, was the first film of a trilogy of heist films directed by Steven Soderbergh. This big budget crime-thriller remake of the 1960’s Rat Pack favourite conveys the intricately thrilling plot where Daniel Ocean leads a rag-tag group of con artists and ex-cons for the monumental heist of 3 major Las Vegas Casinos.
This sequence is significant because it sets up the diegesis of the film and also gives us an insight into the character of the protagonist. Also, structurally, the set up of the heist is crucial to setting up the audience’s high expectations and apprehensions of how something of this scale can be achieved smoothly. Daniel Ocean, played by A-list star George Clooney, is being interviewed by the parole board at a small New Jersey State prison. Immediately after being released, Ocean heads straight for Atlantic City and then Las Vegas to begin recruiting old acquaintances for his grandest heist yet. The genre feature of assembling the heist team members, each with a specific skill, is an extremely important one as it functions to make the audience anticipate what role each will play and how, exactly, their skills will come into play later. Through this sequence, it is made clear to us that Daniel Ocean is a leader and a natural, experienced criminal whose goals and ambitions are not affected by prison.
To put this film and its heist theme into context, we must take into consideration the significance of using a casino in Las Vegas as the target of the heist. Las Vegas, also known as sin city, is the entertainment and gambling capital of the world, where fortunes are made and lost. Las Vegas connotes certain values and attitudes. Heist genre films have to make the thieves charismatic and almost heroic, therefore, the object or institution being robbed must be seen as evil in some personal or social way. A casino in Las Vegas is a symbol of mass corporate greed, capitalism on a lurid scale, and a place where the odds are stacked in the casino’s favour. The stakes are so high when it comes to robbing a casino that, Daniel Ocean and his 10 associates are not only gambling their chances of going to prison, they are gambling with their lives. We know that this is the case with this film because we can see Daniel Ocean unthreatened and unaffected by prison life.
MISE EN SCENE
During the interview in the prison, The Mise en scene lends meaning to the fact that it isn’t a nice place to be, where conformity reigns, and individuality is quashed. The dark mise en scene, with the walls painted grey, as a prison is, creates an institutionalized atmosphere. The empty benches behind the character indicate the character’s loneliness in prison. There is also a barred window in the background, representing the outside world and something that can be seen but not experienced as well as the fan that isn’t on, further emphasising the lifeless atmosphere of the prison.
Figure placement is effectively thought out to show Ocean in the centre, as the main character, and one side of him lit, from outside light, the other in darkness from inside the prison, introducing the classic narrative structural opposition of good versus evil, and showing Oceans two sides in the framing and lighting. The low-key back lighting creates a halo effect and prevents the audience from recognising him, creating instant mystery and suggesting he is doing something wrong or secretive, characteristic of the genre.
Through Costume, Hair, and make-up, we see that Daniel Ocean, unshaven and slouched, is wearing a dark beige jumpsuit with a white undershirt, which represent his repression and captivity. Although Ocean is presented as a criminal, his slicked back hair, articulated speech and star image make him appealing. Clooney is usually seen as playing the hero in films, a trait common in studio films such as this, so the audience will expect the same of him in this film, although he is being portrayed, not as a law-abiding citizen or law enforcer, but as a felon.
As Ocean leaves the prison, we see natural light coming from outside of the prison, with Ocean, facing away from us, silhouetted. This light is there to represent freedom, and escape from the confining walls of prison; Ocean’s silhouette raises yet more enigmas. Figure placement puts the “North Jersey State Prison” prison behind Ocean as he walks out, setting the location and also symbolizing Ocean leaving the prison and life of confinement behind.
In the next location, a casino in Atlantic City, we have a big contrast in mise en scene, which conveys to us Daniel Ocean’s character in a non-confined setting. As this destination is the first place that Ocean visits after leaving prison, it suggests that it plays a significant role in the narrative. In the background, chandeliers can be seen, along with potted plants, and a burgundy and gold colour scheme, symbolizing wealth and desire.
Ocean himself is now cleanly shaven, stylishly suited and can now be seen as much more of an individual, with the high-key lighting showing all of his facial expressions. All of the mise-en-scene shows the audience how this new setting is much more welcoming, the colours used give the setting a sense that Ocean feels at home and the artificial light brightens up the entire shot. The setting is made clear to the audience and the large budget of the film is made evident by the use of props such as the slot machines, roulette tables and the uniformed croupiers. These uniforms are also significant because the croupiers are wearing nametags, giving them an identity, which further contrasts the prison life where the prisoners in uniforms have no identity.
Cinematography and EditingArguably the most critically acclaimed aspect of Ocean’s Eleven is the exceptional cinematography and editing. Stephen Soderbergh’s creative influence as an auteur is seen through cinematography and editing and it is known to be effective in conveying the plot with or without dialogue. The shots in this sequence are typically quite long durations of shot because they allow for the setting and context to sink in.
The establishing shot is medium close-up shot on the character, who is positioned in the centre of the shot. This long duration of shot allows the audience to take in Daniel Ocean’s character in detail, illustrating his importance.
A fast cut to a close up shot reveals the character to be Hollywood star George Clooney, fixed and focused onto his face, allowing for a more personal connection with the character, and also allowing individuality. This close up also reveals his eyes, which help gain the audience’s trust, emphasizing his importance even further. The bobbing camera movement suggests the point of view from another character, the parole interviewer.
A point of view shot through jail cell bars and slow tracking shots of Ocean leaving the prison suggests that other criminals look up to Ocean as an icon.
A close up shot of Daniel’s ocean’s hand holding a wedding band conveys the importance of the ring, and hence, the importance of his ex wife. This impression is confirmed when the camera slowly pans up to Ocean’s face, revealing his longing expression.
A close up tracking shot from behind Ocean is used as he exits through the prison gates to emphasise his importance and his role as a leader.
In Atlantic City, a shallow focus shot of Ocean rising up in an escalator, filmed from a low-level camera angle, indicates Daniel Ocean’s rise from a boring repressed lifestyle to the pretentious planning of an epic heist. The shallow focus allows for more emphasis on Ocean.
Once Ocean is seated at a blackjack table, there are several shot-reverse-shots of Ocean and the croupier, which doesn’t break the 180-degree rule, and also allows for dialogue. This helps to establish narrative. A point of view shot, from Ocean’s perspective, shows another croupier talking to somebody, showing that something had caught his eye. This suggests one of the characters in this shot, plays a role of importance in the future narrative.
The female croupier walks out of the frame and is replaced by the man from the previous shot. This raises enigma as to why she has left, and satisfies the audience’s expectations of one of the previous characters being of some significance. The camera then zooms in closer to Frank’, whose name is established from the dialogue. This zoom suggests that this conversation between him and Ocean is that of a more secret nature, between those two, and the audience. Both characters seem to have their eyes at the same height in an eye-line match, suggesting friendship and equality, but also raising an enigma between the two characters, as to how they are friends.
SoundDiegetic and non-diegetic sound are used to collaboratively to augment the sequence in several ways.
Off screen, metallic diegetic sounds can be heard, like large, heavy doors, or keys, and voices can be heard, but not distinctly. This off screen sound raises an enigma as to what the source of these noises are, cueing their significance to the plot as associated with confinement and prison, setting up the threat of prison for the thieves later on in the film.
Off screen diegetic dialogue can be heard from a well educated, seemingly law abiding character, interviewing our character, who we find out to be Danny Ocean, tying in with the title, and giving more reason to the fact that he is the protagonist in this film. This interviewer acts as a contrast between law-abiding citizens, and the stereotypes that are commonly found in prison, representing the good, in this film.
When the interviewer asks Ocean “What do you think you would do if released?” he does not respond, but a cut to a close up of his face and a non-diegetic baseline insinuates that he indeed plans to break the law again. We don’t need any script to suggest this as the mischievous, jazzy non diegetic sound and the close up of Ocean’s facial expression tell the audience all they need to know.
The non-diegetic sound thickens with more instruments as Daniel Ocean leaves the solitary prison life and enters the lively casino. Combined with the diegetic sound of the casino machines and the gambling crowds, this sound build up represents Daniel Ocean gathering together ideas and the gang members for the heist, slowly coming back to life.
The non-diegetic sound is of a funky jazz genre, reflecting Ocean’s optimistic attitude as well as giving a sense of mischief and complexity.
Ocean’s Eleven, with it’s A-list cast and artistic director, was considered to be a success at the box office and with critics. The film received a rating of 80 percent at Rotten Tomatoes. People magazine called the film “pure fun from start to finish,” and included it in its end-of-year Best of Screen list.
With its 85 million dollar budget, Oceans Eleven grossed over 183 million US dollars in the US alone and over 260 Million dollars overseas, making it an extremely commercially successful film.
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