It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The genius of the past decays remorselessly into the routine of the present, and one example is the downfall of the caper picture. The classic caper genre had rules set in stone. It began (1) with an impregnable fortress (vault, casino, museum, or even Fort Knox). Then we met (2) a group of men who hoped to impregnate it. There was (3) a setup about the defenses of the fortress, and (4) a chalk talk in which the mastermind told the others what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. This had the advantage of also briefing the audience, so that the actual caper could proceed in suspenseful silence while we understood what they were doing and why.
The modern caper movie, such as Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Thirteen," dispenses with such tiresome exposition and contains mostly action and movie-star behavior. Only the characters know what the plan is, and we are expected to watch in gratitude and amazement as they disclose it out of their offscreen planning and plotting. Fair enough, if it's done with energy and style. If, however their plan involves elements that are preposterously impossible, I feel as if I'm watching one of Scrooge McDuck's schemes.
All of the "Ocean's" movies, including the long-ago Sinatra version (1960), are remade or inspired by a great French caper movie, Jean-Pierre Melville's "Bob le Flambeur" ("Bob the Gambler," 1956), in which Bob actually laid down chalk lines in an open field to walk his accomplices through a raid on a casino. The movie is available on DVD in the Criterion Collection; see what you're missing now that the formula has been adapted for ADD sufferers.
"Ocean's Thirteen" begins as aging and beloved casino legend Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) plans to open his latest and greatest Vegas casino. Alas, he has taken for a partner the devious double-crosser Willie Banks (Al Pacino, very good), who swindles him out of the casino and lands him in the emergency room with shock and grief. Then Reuben's loyal friends (played by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Matt Damon, etc.) gather at his bedside and vow to sabotage the opening of the new casino.