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Friday December 10, 2004

Gang of thieves in Ocean’s Twelve

By ZACK YUSOF

They say that lightning never strikes twice. Ocean’s Twelve reunites the entire star-studded cast of 2001’s worldwide hit Ocean’s Eleven and welcomes Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones and internationally acclaimed actor Vincent Cassel to the fold. Helmed once again by the prodigiously talented Steven Soderbergh, Ocean’s Twelve finds the gang involved in another caper, this time set in Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. 

Transposing the action to Europe from Vegas, Ocean’s Twelve finds Danny Ocean and his crew getting up to no good in fabulously picturesque surrounds and having a jolly good time by the looks of things. This time around, the sharp suits and cool shades are still intact but the tone of the movie has shifted from that of a tense heist movie to more of a feel-good vibe with lots of comical overtones. The fabled “Rat Pack” Las Vegas cool of the first Ocean movie has been turned down several notches and is replaced by generous helpings of “all-the-lads together” male bonding. 

Rather than focusing mainly on the heist and the obstacles that the crew have to overcome in order to achieve their objective, Ocean’s Twelve concentrates on developing the relationship between the guys in the crew. Most definitely, Ocean’s Twelve is more a buddy flick than a heist movie. Boasting a stellar cast like no other – George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and a host of instantly recognisable cameos – Ocean’s Twelve has the heavyweight star power to ensure that it remains at the top of the list of new releases to look out for this festive season. 

NEW ELEVEN: The cast and producer of Ocean’s Twelve are (from left) Andy Garcia, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon and producer Jerry Weintraub.
In addition to the returning cast, the movie also marks the arrival of two new additions to the ensemble. Joining Julia Roberts in the female ranks is Academy Award winner Zeta-Jones, whom Soderbergh had worked with previously on Traffic, and internationally acclaimed French actor Vincent Cassel. 

According to Soderbergh, the casting of Zeta-Jones’s character was essential to the sequel because it centres on somebody who was not in the first film. Because of this, the director felt that what was needed was an actor who could really hold the screen and play a great badass, which Zeta-Jones does to perfection in Ocean’s Twelve. 

Playing the role of Francois Toulour, a wealthy European playboy who moonlights as an elusive master thief called Nightfox, is Cassel who sprang to prominence on the back of roles in films such as La Haine, Elizabeth and Shrek. Soderburgh ran into Cassell at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and asked him if he would be interested in joining the cast of Ocean’s Twelve. 

Rounding off the glitzy Ocean’s Twelve cast are British actors Eddie Izzard and Robbie Coltrane, Soderbergh alumni Cherry Jones who appeared with Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, and Jerome Krabbe who starred in Soderbergh’s version of Kafka

In a bid to promote the film, members of the cast including Clooney, Pitt, Zeta- Jones, Damon, Andy Garcia and Don Cheadle, along with producer Jerry Weintraub, made their way to beautiful Palm Springs, California, last month to meet journalists – both international and domestic – and talk about the film over the course of a weekend. 

Second coming 

Ocean’s Twelve is set three years after Danny Ocean and his crew of con artists and thieves – fronted by sharply-dressed detail man Rusty Ryan (Pitt), nerdy rookie pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Damon), Cockney explosives expert Basher Tarr (Cheadle) and safecracker Frank Catton (Bernie Mac) – pulled off one of the most audacious heists in history, robbing ruthless entrepreneur Terry Benedict (Garcia) of the millions stored in his impenetrable Las Vegas vault. 

Splitting the US$160mil take from their Vegas heist, it dawns on the gang that legit life on the straight and narrow is a bigger challenge than expected. When a mysterious informant breaks rule No.1 and rats out the crew to the angry and vengeful Benedict, Ocean and his boys are forced to jet off to Amsterdam, Rome and Paris and pull off three separate heists in order to pay back the millions that they took from Benedict – with interest.  

In addition to pressure from Benedict, the gang must also deal with heat from a dedicated and ultra-gorgeous Europol agent with a dark past named Isabel Lahiri (Zeta-Jones) and a mysterious French rival called Nightfox (Cassell). 

According to renowed producer Weintraub, it was at a press conference in Rome that the idea of doing a sequel was first discussed between the cast and filmmakers. Although few expected an ensemble of the magnitude that featured in Ocean’s Eleven could be gotten together again for another film, director Soderberg revealed that he had the beginning of an idea for a story set in the Eternal City. As it turned out, Soderbergh was greatly inspired by the city and started talking about a sequel and writing while the promotional junket was still in town. 

“I wasn’t thinking in terms of making another Ocean’s film until we went to Rome to promote Ocean’s Eleven and I fell in love with the city,” explained Soderbergh in the film’s production notes. “I began thinking about what the story and structure might be and the idea of setting it in Europe began to take hold.” 

JAILHOUSE CREW: (From left) George Clooney, Elliot Gould, Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle have to think their way out of the cell, in Ocean’s Twelve.
On returning to Los Angeles, Weintraub found further inspiration for the sequel in writer George Nolfi’s screenplay Honour Among Thieves, an adventure about the greatest thief in America being challenged by the greatest thief in Europe. “The script had within it a terrific idea for Ocean’s Twelve so I sent it to George, Brad and Steven and asked them to read it,” said Weintraub. “We all loved it. The story centred around two main characters so the biggest challenge was adapting it to fit our ensemble.” 

Commented Soderbergh: “The tone of George Nolfi’s script was very similar to the tone of Ocean’s Eleven. I had the basic idea for Ocean’s Twelve that Benedict managed to track all of them down and they had to go to Europe and pull off a series of heists in order to pay him back. And unlike the first film, where you’re having fun watching them be successful and get a lot of things right, I thought it would be more fun if Twelve was the movie in which everything goes wrong from the get-go.” 

For Ocean’s Twelve, Soderbergh decided to fuse Nolfi’s script with some of his own ideas, an experiment that managed to work out nicely. The way Soderbergh explained it, the real challenge was in trying to edit out the enormous number of ideas that he and Nolfi were trying to jam into the script.  

“It’s fair to say we probably could have written five scripts from the number of ideas that we developed,” reckoned Nolfi. 

Despite the geographical switch, members of the cast like Don Cheadle, who like Clooney and Roberts are working with Soderbergh for the fourth time, reckons that the director has still managed to retain the essence of what made the movie so cool. For Cheadle, Ocean’s Twelve is also his fourth movie with good pal Clooney. 

“It’s the director that makes it cool,” reckoned Cheadle. ”I think that Steven set the tone and I love that in this film. He could’ve really been safe and tried to do the same thing again, but instead this film was a complete departure. It was almost more fun, I think, and a lot more cinematic. It just opened up, which is neat. And Jerry too. Jerry getting everyone together made a big difference. Those are the two cool elements of this group.” 

“We had to make sure that we had a screenplay that worked without catering to particular actors,” said Clooney, Soderbergh’s partner in Section Eight, the production company that co-produced the Ocean films along with Weintraub’s Jerry Weintraub Productions. “The great thing about our cast is that there are no egos about who has the better lines or more lines. No one ever tries to take over the scene.” 

Dream producer 

If bringing together a star-studded cast to film Ocean’s Eleven seemed daring, difficult and even close to being nigh on impossible, reuniting them for a sequel – as well as adding a few new big name stars to the mix – appeared to be all those things and more. But Jerry Weintraub is a man who is used to getting his way and someone who is not easily discouraged. 

Steven Soderbergh, the director of Ocean’s Twelve.
Weintraub is a man with vast experience in the art of crafting hit films, having produced the popular Karate Kid series as well as seminal movies Diner and Nashville. Weintraub worked behind the scenes on the original version of Ocean’s Eleven featuring Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack and was responsible for helming the 2001 remake as well. 

“Nobody thought we would be able to get this film together,” explained Weintraub, “because logistically, it’s very challenging to co-ordinate a cast of this size and calibre into a 77-day shooting schedule. What made it easier is that they all wanted to come back.” 

At the press conference, Weintraub also talked about the difficulty of filming in different countries across Europe as opposed to shooting in Las Vegas. “I think that the difference between shooting in the five different countries that we shot in, the seven different locations, whatever it was, was the fact that Vegas was confined. We were in a small space most of the time, in the casino. It was very, very difficult from a production standpoint because we had to close off the casino and if you’ve been to Vegas you know that the owners of the hotels do not look kindly upon closing down a craps table or a roulette wheel or things that make them a lot of money. So that was a difficult situation from a production standpoint. Logistically, it was a nightmare. We had five different production companies. We had a lot of different crews. We had a lot of different people around in different countries, but it all came together and it all worked because we have a great bunch of people. It was a logistic nightmare, but we made it work and we had fun while we were doing it. It was a completely different feeling.” 

Commented Soderbergh on his professional relationship with Weintraub: “For any director, working with Jerry is a dream. His story sense, his casting sense and his instincts are very, very good. It would have been impossible to make these two films without him. Jerry’s contacts enabled us to exert an amount of control over the locations in Europe that are very difficult to get, and this is in addition to his ability to keep tabs on everything and keep everybody happy.”  

Ocean’s Twelve is currently being screened in cinemas nationwide. 

Related Story: 

The charisma of George Clooney


 



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