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Gambling & Gaming in Media Blog Series Part 2: Ocean's 11

Blog Post #2 – Ocean’s Series

January 31, 2022

Gambling has been depicted in many Hollywood movies. The 2001 crime/comedy, Ocean’s 11, directed by Steven Soderbergh, has been the gold standard when it comes to heist movies, one of which is centered around robbing casinos, and successfully taking down the house. It also helps to have some of the biggest names in Hollywood behind the operation, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.

The movie is based on a group of experienced criminals, as part of an interconnected community with specific and diverse skillsets that are experienced in executing elaborate heists. The heist is orchestrated by Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), featuring a group of talented and charming misfits brought together to clean out the vaults of the Bellagio, MGM Grand and Mirage, the three most profitable casinos in Las Vegas. One overlooked theme in this movie is the way the characters are depicted in the context of gambling.

Total Control

The movie begins by showing the various characters in their current gigs outside of working successful and elaborate heists. Rusty has been making his way teaching Texas HoldEm poker to celebrities (a group of notable actors, such as Joshua Jackson and Topher Grace, albeit none commending the star power of Pitt himself). Rusty is bored and uninterested – while the celebrities are giddy with excitement and unable to refrain from giving away the cards they hold in their hands. Even his body language, chomping on some chips and behaving in a way that is reminiscent of the surf instructor in Hawaii, teaching tourists how ride. Rusty commands the table. He sees all the errors, all the “tells”, and manages to point them out with a quick and witty remark. He advises the players to fold or alter bets, knowing what they hold in their hands. It’s almost as if we’re watching Jordan running circles around a bunch of high school kids on the court. The point is Pitt’s gambling prowess is almost as effortless as his cool.

Enter Clooney.

Recently released from jail and hoping to get the band together. First stop: Rusty. Let’s be honest, with these two leading the charge, the casinos couldn’t stand a chance. However, a playful standoff ensues between the two and some big wagers are laid out. The only force that can match Pitt in the art of poker, is Clooney – the counterpart to his cool. Rusty states the first lesson of poker is “leave emotion at the door” and that the next lesson would be how to “draw out the bluff”, referring to milking Clooney’s bet as he is clearly bluffing. Rusty predicts Ocean has nothing; Ocean keeps betting bigger. In the end, Ocean takes the cake with a tremendous hand. All the celebrities groan as Rusty just smiles at Ocean. The way I interpreted this, was they were both bamboozling the rest of the players at the table, clearing out some celebrities looking to blow some money. They are equals, a joint alpha, if you will. They’re always in control, and they always win together.

The point here is, poker skill (while attainable to some degree), is wrapped pleasantly in the perfect package – it takes a certain breed that has control of these situations and they don’t lose. Clooney and Pitt are that breed we aspire to be.

Taking Down the House

“Play long enough, you never change the stakes, the house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet big, and then you take the house”

That is the overarching theme. The underdogs, beating the odds and taking the casino. This is getting even for all the little guys, for being kicked down for far too long. That’s what it’s all about. The stakes are high, and so is the prize. That’s what we love about Ocean’s 11. We can see ourselves and who we aspire to be and live to be the heroes. In an ironic way, the anti-hero sentiment is reminiscent of the “win big” rhetoric of casinos, where magic can happen if you put yourself out there and make the bet.


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