The Daily Stream: Ocean's Twelve Brings Its Own Vibe To The Heist Series

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Ocean's Twelve"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Rusty (Brad Pitt), Linus (Matt Damon), and the whole crew are back for Steven Soderbergh's follow-up to his genre-defining "Ocean's Eleven." Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) is none too pleased about having his casinos robbed out from under him, and he wants his money back. Plus interest. There are not a lot of jobs out there that have a $100 million price tag, but one that does is swiping the Fabergé Imperial Coronation Egg from a Rome museum. Not only do they have to deal with Benedict breathing down their necks, but they also have Eurpol detective Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) hot on their trail, who just so happens to previously had a relationship with Rusty. Also, they are on a crash course with a rival thief known as the "Night Fox" (Vincent Cassel) that is out to snatch the same prized egg.

Why it's essential viewing

"Ocean's Eleven" displayed the greatness of pure Hollywood glamor. It was big, flashy entertainment of the highest caliber. "Ocean's Twelve" takes a gigantic swerve, stylistically and tonally, which led to much bafflement and mixed reviews when it was released back in 2004. "Twelve" takes its cues from its European setting. It is loose, jazzy, and much more of a hangout movie than it is focused on the clockwork precision of a heist. If you are looking for a movie to recapture the magic of "Ocean's Eleven," Steven Soderbergh has very little interest in giving that to you.

Instead, he decides to create something with its own, unique personality, something movies in a franchise rarely are afforded the opportunity to do. He fills the film with handheld camera movements, zooms, freeze-frames, and primarily use of available light, giving off this air of a rough and tumble production of experimentation despite the film's obviously sizable budget. The Ocean's crew in the film are on a sort of a slapdash mission themselves, trying to cobble together a massive heist in such a short amount of time. The movie itself needs to be on that same wavelength.

"Ocean's Twelve" may not have the same zip as its predecessor, but if you lock into that new wavelength, there is just as much to be had. Watching the crew with its back to the wall, attempting to find a way out of the sticky situation they've found themselves in, is a treat, and all the bickering and frustration makes every scene feel totally alive. A franchise needs to shake things up in order to survive, and even if people initially reject the shake-up, they will come to realize what a gift it was. That's "Ocean's Twelve."

Julia Roberts as Tess as Julia Roberts

In the first film, Julia Roberts did not have that much to do. Soderbergh weaponized her star power as a means to make the crazy heist Danny wants to pull off worth it. For him, the prize is not the $168 million payout. It's Tess. In "Ocean's Twelve," they decide to give Julia Roberts the most ingenious task of all: play herself. Well, sort of. In order to pull off an element of the heist, Matt Damon's Linus comes to the conclusion that getting a famous person as a distraction for the operation would be perfect. Nobody wants to talk about it, but Tess happens to look exactly like mega movie star Julia Roberts.

Seeing Julia Roberts play Tess play Julia Roberts deserves a standing ovation. Conceptually, it is such an incredible idea, both as a way to acknowledge the reality of the world the film takes place in and as a hilarious genre conceit. Roberts has so much fun with everyone messing around with her star persona, and throwing her against Bruce Willis as himself generates so many big laughs. I still have never seen a better reaction to seeing someone famous than Roberts gives when she first sees Willis, as Tess completely breaks character for just a brief second.

From the moment you realize what is about to happen to the resolution of the meta-Julia Roberts sequence is pure delight. It takes a lot of guts and conviction to perfectly execute something like this in what is supposed to be broad Hollywood entertainment. I can't believe they were allowed to do it, did it, and that it works so well. The rest of the film is great too, but if you are going to watch it for one reason, it is for this.

Damon the comedian

When Matt Damon comes on to "Ocean's Eleven," he is a hot young star on the precipice of the A-list. When "Ocean's Twelve" comes out, "The Bourne Identity" and "Supremacy" had already come out, and his status as one of Hollywood's preeminent leading men was no longer a question mark. Soderbergh and Damon in this film and "Ocean's Thirteen" transform whizkid Linus into the frustrated upstart trying to be on the same level as George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Fully aware of his own energy, Damon is nowhere near as suave or cool as those two actors.

He works best when he is in a complete frenzy, working so hard to make people think he knows what he is doing. Linus essentially becomes the chief comedic relief character of the movie, and Damon's deftness as a character actor knows how to nail every single joke. The more disjointed nature of "Ocean's Twelve" ends up benefitting Linus as a character and Damon's performance more than any of the other cast members. Danny and Rusty are a little too cool, and they need to cede some ground to Linus for everything to fall into place for the heist. "Ocean's Thirteen" takes this notion of Damon as a comedian even further, but this one finds that right sweet spot. Whenever Damon takes on a weird supporting role in a film, I am always interested. He can plug and play into any genre or tone without upsetting the balance, and in "Ocean's Twelve," Damon provides some sweet seasoning.

From my standpoint, "Ocean's Twelve" signals everything that Steven Soderbergh has made for the last 18 years. Here, he really honed his fly-by-night approach to filmmaking that can be seen in everything ranging from "The Informant!" to this year's "Kimi." After the trifecta of "Erin Brockovich," "Traffic," and "Ocean's Eleven," he was given the keys to the kingdom, and he used that kingdom to make whatever he wanted. Most people weren't on board, but those of us that were have followed him to whatever crazy thing he decides to do next. "Ocean's Twelve" is that pivot point, and it's beautiful to behold.