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Great music all round - but with a ruinous twist
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
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Album cover copyright (c) 2001 Warner Bros.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
A smart and witty film, Ocean's Eleven was essentially an excuse for a bunch of actors to get together and have a good time, but their good time becomes the audience's good time, as the excellent heist movie became an enormous hit upon its release. Directed by Steven Soderbergh in unusually commercial territory, and with a wonderful cast led by George Clooney and Brad Pitt, featuring delightful comic turns by Elliot Gould and Carl Reiner, it would be hard to describe Ocean's Eleven as a great film, but it is as hugely enjoyable as it is completely disposable.
Music plays an important part in the film's funky atmosphere. Soderbergh has a mixed track record when it comes to music in his films, but he got the mix just right for this one, with a fine collection of songs along with a sassy, funky jazz score by David Holmes. Surprisingly, given the film is a remake of one which starred the Rat Pack, there's no Frank or Deano on the soundtrack, which instead features an eclectic mixture of old tunes from Percy Faith, Perry Como and Elvis Presley and even a little hip-hop from Handsome Boy Modeling School (well, it might be hip-hop anyway - I would have to consult a youngster to be sure, and I don't know any).
Holmes's music (it's hard to call it a "film score" since it serves no dramatic purpose, it's just a series of instrumentals there to add a funky sheen to the already-glossy production) is blessed with a kind of retro-cool and is a complete delight. Written for a small ensemble based around guitars, trumpet, sax, shakers, vibes and synths, it is permanently hip and smart. When I was a boy the operative word would have been "cool", but everyone would laugh if I used that today, so I won't. Pick of the cues is probably "$160m Chinese Man", but they're all great (if ultimately insubstantial).
As for the songs, it's nice to hear the Como classic "Papa Loves Mambo" and Elvis's "A Little Less Conversation" sans the drum loops added in its more-familiar remix, though perhaps the pick is Quincy Jones's "Blues is the Night", a great piece. So far, so good, but the defining feature of the album is that it features a lot of dialogue mixed on top of the music (both Holmes's pieces and some of the others) - I guess this retro step is in keeping with much of the rest of the project, but even so surely the whole point of adding dialogue is to allow people to relive the film - but given that they could buy the DVD cheaper than the soundtrack album, and it isn't actually all that much longer than it, I think I may have spotted a more efficient way of reliving the film - just watch it. The dialogue spoils the music and means the listener is never able to just sit back and enjoy it - instead he is forever being distracted by the admittedly-amusing verbal quips laid all over it. That's a pity, because otherwise this would be one of the finest examples of a score-and-songs album in recent years - but they ruined it.