"You gotta be nuts, too. And you're gonna need a crew as nuts as you are!... Who do you got in mind?"
This is the story of a crew of expert thieves as they prepare and execute multiple very difficult heists across several movies. It's called Ocean's Eleven because the leader's name is Danny Ocean, and there are eleven of them. Originally a remake of the 1960 film starring Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, it went on to displace the original and spawn two sequels, imaginatively titled Ocean's Twelve and Ocean's Thirteen.
The first film involves Danny, an ex-con fresh out of prison, approaching his buddy Rusty about performing a monumental heist. The goal? Rob the central vault of three casinos at the same time, during a boxing match so that the grand total in the safe would be a little over 160 million dollars. They gather the Eleven and come to learn that the man they are robbing, Terry Benedict, is a man whose principal crime seems to be that he's dating Danny's ex-wife Tess.
The second film deals with repercussions of their heist, as Benedict tracks down the Eleven and demands recompense in full, plus interest. Seeing as almost none of the eleven were frugal with their money, this means they have to find some other heist that will pay off an equal amount. Because they are too well known in the US, they travel to Europe and receive an offer from a legendary retired Con Man in which they steal a very famous MacGuffin. They are hounded on one side by a cocky acrobat-thief who wants the same loot, and a Fair Cop Interpol agent on the other.
The third is Best Served Cold: a member of the Eleven is double-crossed by an unscrupulous land-owner, Willy Bank (Al Pacino), with whom he was collaborating on the opening of a new casino. Danny convenes his gang to ruin this casino's opening night. This time Benedict joins forces with them, as he has his own issues with Bank.
Each film is not intended as anything other than sheer popcorn fun. Planning out the heists is entertaining, but it is mostly an excuse to get an All-Star Cast together and have them bounce lines off of each other. This was very much the only real purpose of the original film as well, having the Rat Pack get together and look cool. The crew consist of:
Danny Ocean (George Clooney): The gang's mastermind, Ocean knows everything about Vegas and nearly everyone in it. His plan in the first film is to rob the casinos to take revenge on the guy who stole The Chick from him.
Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt): Ocean's level-headed right-hand man. A jack-of-all-trades, he plays a number of roles in the heists themselves. A running gag is that he is almost always snacking on something, showing his nonchalance.
Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould): A crooked venture capitalist and ex-casino owner who loves Vegas and its charms, he joins the gang as their financial backer to get revenge on Benedict for some past business deals. It is he who invests in Bank's casino in the third movie.
Frank Catton (Bernie Mac): A con artist who frequently plays the inside man. In the first heist, he works as a croupier in one of the marked casinos.
Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle): A Cockney engineer, Basher is in charge of the demolitions and heavy machinery involved in the heists. He speaks in an impenetrable combination of Cockney slang and technical jargon.
Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison): A tech expert who specializes in electronics and communications. Neurotic and soft-spoken, he's more comfortable with machines than people.
Virgil and Turk Malloy (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan): A pair of bickering twins from Utah who do all the simple grunt work, but especially act as the wheel men.
Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner): A cranky old-school con artist, Bloom would rather be enjoying a comfortable retirement than having to pull off one more crazy heist.
The Amazing Yen (Shaobo Qin): The grease man, Yen is a Chinese acrobat who is in charge of all the dangerous physical stunts. He speaks entirely in Mandarin except when he curses, but appears to understand English well enough. In the first film, Rusty can understand him perfectly, and eventually so can the rest of the gang, but they never speak Mandarin back to him.*
Except once, in Ocean's Thirteen as part of a cover.
Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon): A skilled pickpocket and Ocean's new protege. Linus comes from underworld royalty, as both of his parents are famous thieves. He desperately seeks to earn some respect of his own by pulling off big scores.
Also appearing as main roles:
Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia): The Big Bad of the first film, owner of the Bellagio, MGM Grand and the Mirage, three of the biggest casinos in Vegas. He provides the impetus for the second film by tracking down the Eleven and demanding repayment (with interest), and later becomes an ad hoc member of the Thirteen, both as a financial backer and The Shill.
Tess Ocean (Julia Roberts): The Chick. Ex-wife of Danny Ocean, who by the first film has shacked up with Benedict. She's the main reason why Danny decides to rob Benedict's casinos. She becomes a member of the Twelve after most of the main crew are jailed during a failed heist; the attempt to complete it involves Tess impersonating Julia Roberts.
Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones): a Fair Cop who is introduced in the second film. She has been hunting down a master criminal, Gaspar LeMarque, for many years, unaware that he is her father. As LeMarque is the person Ocean's Twelve are stealing the MacGuffin for, she ends up pursuing them as well. Also, Rusty's former love interest.
François Toulour (Vincent Cassel): Also known as "The Night Fox," a truly accomplished thief who serves as a one-man Goldfish Poop Gang in the second film. Is also hired by Benedict in the third film to perform a double-cross.
Roman Nagel (Eddie Izzard): A genius inventor who appears briefly in the second film and later becomes a member of the Thirteen.
Willie Bank (Al Pacino): the Big Bad of the third movie, a Jerk Ass business mogul who partners with Reuben to build a new hotel casino, only to muscle him out of his share. Reuben suffers a heart attack as a result, prompting the rest of the crew to take revenge.
Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin): Bank's Dragon and personal assistant. She's the one who's really in control of everything at his casinos.
As Himself: Bruce Willis is the key to unraveling the Julia Roberts impersonation in the second film. (And, just to throw a wrench through the fourth wall, the credits end with, "And Starring: Tess Ocean as Julia Roberts.")
Bad Ass Family: The Caldwells — Linus' mom and dad are legendary thieves themselves and save the day in Twelve and Thirteen, respectively.
Bad Ass Grandpa: Saul may not show it much but there is an exchange in the first film wherein he demonstrates that despite his age, make no mistake, he is a very experienced con man and he is not to be trifled with.
Danny: Saul, are you sure you're ready to do this? Saul: If you ever ask me that question again, Daniel, you will not wake up the following morning. Danny: He's ready.
While discussing the plans to torment the hotel reviewer, Saul is asked if he'd go through that suffering for ten million. He says no, but he'd do it for eleven million. Guess how much money the hotel reviewer wins at the very end of the movie.
Oprah Winfrey in Thirteen, who is the source of a pretty darn good Brick Joke at the expense of Benedict.
Caper Rationalization: If there is one trope that drives the plot of these films other than The Caper, it's Caper Rationalization. This merry band of crooks all have very good, reasonable, and understandable reasons for ripping people off for tens of millions of dollars per movie.
The Cast Showoff: Vincent Cassel is a fantastic capoerista. So is François Toulour.
*cut to Livingston being a neurotic, skittish control freak while working surveillance with the FBI*
Disproportionate Retribution: Benedict is feared because of his tendency to completely destroy the live of anybody who wrongs him, and everybody related to them as well. While doing recon on him, Linus informs Rusty that Benedict not only had the last guy who cheated in his casino put away for ten years, but he also had the bank seize the guy's house before bankrupting the tractor dealership of the guy's brother-in-law. As Reuben describes Benedict:
Reuben: He'll kill you, and then he'll go to work on you.
Dolled-Up Installment: Twelve started out life as a stand-alone heist flick about two dueling master thieves, and was turned into an Ocean's installment when the first film's massive popularity required a sequel as quick as possible. The role of the protagonist was split between Danny (master thief), Rusty (relationship with Europol agent), and (to a certain extent) Linus.
DVD Commentary: On the director and writer track for Ocean's Eleven, they comment a few times on the fact that there are probably only three people who bother to listen to these things.
End of an Age: A recurring motif in Thirteen, as several characters at various points ruminate on how casinos and heists in Las Vegas have changed with the times.
Enemy Mine: In Thirteen Benedict joins the crew in taking down Bank because Bank is an annoying rival.
Exact Words: In regards to the heist in Eleven: "We're just supposed to walk out of there with a hundred and fifty million dollars in cash on us, without getting stopped?"
Fake Brit: American Don Cheadle as Cockney Basher Tarr. No audience member has yet been fooled.
Failsafe Failure: Subverted in Thirteen, where the team finds out that the Greco security system automatically shuts down and reboots when it detects a threat to itself, and a side effect of the reboot is that it locks down the control room and cuts off communications for several minutes. They use this to lock Bank inside his own control room, leaving him unable to stop the team's plans.
Twelve had them intend to do this to the Coronation Egg before Toulour stole it, and failed, except not. They actually did it en-route to the museum.
Played with in Thirteen, where Linus swapped the Five Diamond awards for fakes, only to have Toulour steal them from him. He actually didn't. He had been there to plant bombs around the case so the entire thing could be stolen. Toulour actually stole the fakes. Again.
Hollywood Law: Especially in the first film, there is a fictitious Nevada Gaming Commission law stipulating that casinos in the state are required to hold a minimum amount of cash on the premises, in the event that a high-roller strikes the grand jackpot. Not surprisingly, the title characters hatch a plan to exploit this.
In Thirteen Bank's first moment comes when he reveals he's screwing Reuben out of his share of the casino. He has plenty more throughout the movie. For example, his right-hand-woman, Abigail Sponder, manages to secure a mobile phone Bank wanted. She shows real delight in being able to get it for him, and sends it to him along with a note saying that it's a thank-you present for all the opportunities he's given her. He starts reading the note and rips it in half, obviously bored.
Tolour in Twelve messes with Danny's wake-up call just to be a jerk.
Rusty: Oh, that's mean...that's just mean-spirited.
Linus:[receiving instruction] Rusty: ...Don't use three words when one will do; don't shift your eyes. Look always at your mark, but don't stare. Be specific but not memorable; be funny but don't make him laugh. He's gotta like you, and then forget you the moment you've left his sight. And for God's sake, whatever you do, don't, under any circumstances — Livingston:[off screen] Rust, can you come here a sec? Rusty: Sure thing. [leaves] Linus: ...
Model Planning: In the first movie, they build an exact replica of the vault they're robbing, to practice. And then to use as a crucial component in the actual caper.
Money To Burn: Happens here too, but rather than inside a casket in an oven, it happens during a shootout when it gets caught in the crossfire courtesy of a flamethrower.
Motive Rant: Early on in Eleven, before the crew is even assembled.
Rusty: I need a reason. And don't say money. Why do this? Danny: Why not do it? I just left the joint after losing four years of my life and you're cold-decking Teen Beat cover boys. Because the house always wins. Play long enough, the house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes, you bet big, and then you take the house. Rusty:...been practicingthat speech, haven't you? Danny: Little bit. Did I rush it? I felt like I rushed it. Rusty:No, it's good, I liked it. Teen-beat thing was harsh.
Mythology Gag: The scene where the shootout leads to half of Danny's loot being torched by a flamethrower is almost certain homage to the climax of the original, where Ocean's loot is burned with Bergdorf's body.
Nice to the Waiter: Benedict. Rusty notes that he knows the names of most all of his employees, and we hear him asking about their personal lives as he enters the casino. This is part of Benedict's need to be knowledgeable about everything and everyone associated with his casinos.
The various characters and scenarios Rusty foresees needing for the job in Eleven. A little research can explain these terms.
Rusty: Off the top of my head, I'd say you're looking at a Boesky, a Jim Brown, a Miss Daisy, two Jethros and a Leon Spinks, not to mention the biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever.
A similar thing happens in the second movie, with the remaining team members going over all the possible plans with code names like "Lemony Sue" and "Bundle of Joy," but dismissing them all as insufficiently manned.
Basher: Hell in a Handbasket? Linus: There's no way we can train a cat that fast! Besides... Everyone: Not enough people.
Noodle Incident: When Danny and Rusty are leaving lunch with Reuben, after he initially turned them down.
Reuben: Look, we all go way back and uh, I owe you from the thing with the guy in the place and I'll never forget it. Danny: That was our pleasure. Rusty: I'd never been to Belize.
No Endor Holocaust: Just think about what shutting off all electricity in Las Vegas for 30 seconds would do. Think about people with pacemakers, think about cars that crash in the sudden darkness. Even more, an EMP would have permanently fried every single piece of electronic equipment in its radius. That means that everything with an electronic circuit, plugged in or not, in all of Las Vegas would have to be replaced. The damages from the pinch alone have exceeded what the gang stole by several orders of magnitude. Worse, the gang would have lost all the equipment they needed to finish the heist. The movie would have ended with Danny, Linus and Yen suffocated in the vault after all the air exchanging systems went out.
No Name Given: The hotel reviewer in Thirteen. He's credited only as "The V.U.P.", which he sarcastically calls himself at one point.
Also the final conversation with Benedict in Ocean's 13
Terry: You think this is funny? Danny: Well, Terry, it sure as shit ain't sad.
Reuben gets one as well early in Eleven, noting that even if somehow Danny and Rusty were able to get into the vault and walk out with $100+ million, "you're still in the middle of the fucking desert!"
Put on a Bus: Tess and Isabel simply aren't included in the third film, though at least Danny gives a Hand Wave to the fact that he kept them out of it on purpose
Bank: This town might have changed, but not me. I know people highly invested in my survival, and they are people who really know how to hurt in ways you can't even imagine. Danny: Well, I know all the guys that you'd hire to come after me, and they like me better than you.
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Willie Bank's belief that his riches allow him to go against the code amongst guys who "shook Sinatra's hand", thus giving Reuben a heart-attack, are what sets of the plot of the third movie.
Sequel Goes Foreign: Ocean's Twelve went to Europe, justified by the title gang being too high profile to work in the USA without raising alarms (Not that it stopped them in Ocean's Thirteen).
Squick: Used In-universe in Eleven, Rusty gets a case of this when he pays off the stripper for getting him the keycard for Benedict's casino.
Rusty: Thanks. Say hi to your mother for me. Stripper: Say it yourself. She's on in five minutes. [leaves] Rusty:[Beat] [pulls face, leaves]
Slow Electricity: In the remake, when they use the EMP, there is the obligatory shot of the lights going out block by block.
Sound Effect Bleep: Used extensively in a scene from 12, when Tarr is seen in the recording studio; both on his rap song and in his conversation with the recording engineer about the song sounding lifeless with extensive censorship for radio play.
Stolen MacGuffin Reveal: In 12, the Egg was stolen before the events of the movie, and the whole movie was a plot to return the original.
Throw It In: The Running Gag of Rusty eating something during a scene came from Brad Pitt's penchant to eat close to shooting rather than on breaks, so Steven Soderbergh decided to just let him eat on-camera.
Don Cheadle covering his "special place" and turning it away as he sets off the EMP.
Viewers Are Geniuses: If you don't pay attention (and sometimes even if you do) you probably won't understand what exactly the gang is doing for what reason.
Villain with Good Publicity: Danny takes what would have been Terry's take from the Thirteen plot and donates it (in his name) to a children's charity sponsored by Oprah, leaving Terry with no choice but to go on her show and publicly accept her gratitude for his "selfless act."
Vitriolic Best Buds: Danny and Rusty. Danny's whimsical "let the chips fall" style contrasts Rusty's cautious and detailed style, as a result they occasionally have inevitable personality conflicts. They never stop having each other's backs though.