Script Review: Ocean’s Eleven

I chose Ted Griffin’s Ocean’s Eleven as my first script review because it was the first one I purchased in hard copy.  That purchase pushed me into trying my hand at screenwriting.  I know that the version of the script I have is not final because there are many differences between what I have and what you see in the final cut (it also has Steve Carpenter as the writer – Griffin is listed as revisions writer, and the credited writer on IMDB).

My intent with these script review posts will be to point out the things I thought were notable – unique aspects of the script or story based on my (albeit novice) experience and as seen from my eyes.

The main reason I thought it would be interesting to read this script is the timing aspect.  That much of the movie is the setup but it is only when the heist actually starts that we understand exactly how they are going to do it.  None come to mind but I seem to recall there are heist movies that let you in on the plan, and where the risks are, so you have to watch it play out and see if those risks become issues to bear.   The other reason I love this movie and script, is the dialogue.  So many efficient exchanges. Finally, I think they do a good job at making the film funny not cheesy.

General Structure

It’s a long script, at 143 pages.  To me, the story seems to be laid out like this:

  • The initial heist partnership setup and recruiting take place over the first 48 pages. I think this is Act I.
  • The heist preparation and setup with Tess cover the next 46 pages, concluding Act II.
  • The Third Act consists of the actual heist and aftermath are over pages 94-143.

I struggled to decide if the first part of the heist is in Act II. I think it neatly goes into Act III but that Act then takes half of the time.  Given the ratio of setup (94 pages) to heist (49) is about 2:1, you have to wonder if too much time is spent on the entire setup, or if all of that is needed for the audience to be rooting for the crew to succeed.

Heist Genre

It seems that with the heist, it is important to make sure the audience roots for the crew, or at least doesn’t mind the victim being robbed.  I think Ocean’s Eleven does both.

We get to know each character as humans doing a job, so we want them to succeed. We also don’t think they will be dangerous criminals. In fact, there is a point where Rusty and Danny talk about the rules:

“Rust, when we started in this business, we had three rules. We weren’t gonna hurt anybody. We weren’t gonna steal from anybody didn’t have it coming.”

“And we were gonna play the game list we had nothing to lose.”

For the second part – not minding that the victim gets robbed – well, we are talking about a casino. In fact, three casinos.  People like to gamble but don’t like losing money to the house. The audience won’t feel bad that the house gives some back here.

What’s is interesting in Ocean’s Eleven, is that while we come to respect the work ethic of Benedict and see that he does seem to care and try to be good to Tess, we also see his true colors as a casino owner and business man. Again, we don’t mind seeing him lose here.

Notable Script Tidbits

– Quick exposition – While Danny is waiting for Frank to join him, he’s looking at the newspaper, which also informs us about man we later learn is the target (Terry) and the disgruntled-man-turned-Ocean-partner (Reuben). Included but unnamed in the picture is Tess. The fact that this is in the newspaper means these are recent events, at least between Terry and Reuben.

– Flashbacks to failed casino robberies – I love that Reuben doesn’t just talk about the prior attempts, there are quick snippets of flashbacks to emphasize the point. The efforts are futile.

– Recruiting – As I mentioned, I do think how each person is convinced to join this crazy mission gets screen time because helps us understand more about that specific character and their role.  We become more invested in the success of the criminal crew.

– Setup makes you sweat – I love that just the setup of the heist poses a few moments of risk that keep you on edge – when Roscoe gets into the IT center, for example. When Saul first approaches Benedict about storing something important in the casino safe, for another.

Dialogue

Rusty and Danny

One of the best scenes has two people but only one of them speaks.

“Ten should do it, don’t you think?

You think we need one more?

You think we need one more.

Okay, we’ll get one more.”

There are also two scenes that I love and for which I’m grateful there are snips on YouTube.

Tess and Danny

The dialogue between these two, throughout the film, is fantastic. It’s reminiscent of older romance films in the efficiency and cleverness of the quips.

“You know what your problem is?”

“I only have one?”

Rusty and Linus

The second great exchange is when Rusty is coaching Linus. The completely unhelpful contradicting advice from Rusty which ends in a desperate Linus waiting for Rusty to tell him the most important thing.

“Be funny but don’t make him laugh.”

Comedy

One thing that Ocean’s Eleven does, that so many caper films don’t, is to be funny without seeming cheesy.  The one liners scattered throughout make it even more fun for audiences.

The story starts with Danny Ocean getting out of prison. On his way out he receives his divorce papers. When the mail prisoner asks him what the mail is about, Danny says “I’m a free man.”

When Danny crashes Rusty’s poker lesson, when asked about his line of work, Danny provides a vague answer and mentions that “Of late, I’ve been lucky to get an hour a day outside of the office.”

At the same game, Rusty’s student thinks he won the hand with “All reds!”

Reuben makes a cliche line funny – “Look, we all go way back, I owe you from the thing with the guy with the place.”

Describing casino security, Reuben says “They got enough armed personnel to occupy Paris. Okay, bad example…”

I could go on and on.

We also take joy in the goofy play between Virgil and Turk, the stress of neurotic Roscoe, watching old timer Saul deal with being back in the business and Linus moving into the big leagues.

Summary

I believe the characteristics of the Ocean’s Eleven rewritten script mentioned above are what make it a really enjoyable one. The facts that the movie was also directed well, scored well and had a host of recognizable, talented folks in the cast all came together to make a great movie.

A.

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