Near the beginning of Ocean’s Thirteen, Willie Banks (Al Pacino) muscles Reuben Tishkoff out of his share of a casino, offering Reuben a pittance for his half. Reuben responds:
Everybody said that you would try to screw me. That you done it to every one of your partners. But I defended you. I said, “No! Me and Willy Bank been around long enough… that we both shook Sinatra’s hand. And there’s a code among guys that shook Sinatra’s hand.”
Thirteen is about loyalty. It is about the rest of the “eleven” being loyal to Reuben, and a general “honor among thieves.” Sinatra was known as a celebrity who did not look down on people and genuinely cared about them. He wasn’t like Terry Benedict or Willie Bank, merely using people to get ahead. A couple of quotes on Wikipedia, from an interview in 1963 he did with Playboy, stand out:
I’m for decency — period. I’m for anything and everything that bodes love and consideration for my fellow man.
If you don’t know the guy on the other side of the world, love him anyway because he’s just like you. He has the same dreams, the same hopes and fears. It’s one world, pal. We’re all neighbors.
Sinatra was jaded toward organized religion, but he seems to have a good grasp on how Jesus taught us to treat our fellow human beings. The rumors about his relationship with organized crime persist, by I have the impression if he was your friend, he would be the most loyal friend you could have. People like Bank and Benedict never understand that type of loyalty; they’re, well… Benedict Arnolds.
The phrase “shaking Sinatra’s hand” could also be applied to the movie as a whole. It is the only one of the trilogy which even mentions Frank Sinatra, even though he was the preeminent star of the movie which inspired it. And it is the only movie of the three which includes one of his songs.
Most of the songs Sinatra is famous for are fluff. “This Town” is no exception. As I researched it for this review, I came across the lyrics for a song, also titled “This Town,” by Niall Horan, from the band One Direction. I was amazed how the first verse fit in with the movie.
Waking up to kiss you and nobody’s there
The smell of your perfume still stuck in the air
Yesterday I thought I saw your shadow running round
It’s funny how things never change in this old town
So far from the stars
The first two lines of the song remind us the leading ladies from the last two films are not around. We are told, “It’s not their fight.” Tess and Isabel aren’t really part of the eleven, and are not close enough to Reuben that loyalty would demand they take part. They understand, but neither have liked their partners being involved in criminal activity.
The end of the first verse, however, is just the opposite of the movie. The movie is filled with stars, and a recurring theme is how Vegas has changed—since Sinatra passed on, anyway. Change can either be good or bad.
The first time we run into the word “change” in the movie is when Rusty and Danny get off a private plane. Linus, who is picking them up, asks, “Any change?” He is asking about Rueben’s condition. Reuben has had a heart attack after being cheated by Bank. He has given up hope.
In a flashback, Bank tells Reuben, “The arrangement is changing. Was changed. As a matter of fact, there is no arrangement.” When he is given a casino chip with the words “The Bank Casino” on it, Reuben laments, “You changed the name.”
Bank wanted to effect a change that would devastate Reuben. His friends wanted to affect him in a way that would bring a positive change. Their constant encouragement—especially from their letters—brings him back. Reuben’s health and attitude following adversity changes for the better. His financial situation will also change for the better at the end of the movie.
In a sequence with reminiscences about how kind Reuben was to them, Rusty and Danny remember what Vegas used to be like. Not all change is good. Bigger is not always better.
Rusty: The Sands was there, Desert Inn.
Danny: They built them a lot smaller back then.
Rusty: They seemed pretty big.
Danny: Town’s changed.
At the end of the movie, as Danny talks to Bank about what a rough night the casino owner had (“half a billion running out the door”), Bank retorts that he will quickly bounce back; Danny hasn’t really hurt him. “This town might’ve changed, but not me.”
Bank thinks his unchanging ruthlessness will save him. What he doesn’t realize is the way he treats people has earned him enemies, and Danny’s loyalty has earned him friends. As Danny tells him, “…you shook Sinatra’s hand. You should know better, Willie.”
In the other two movies, after the “bad guy” is taken down, the guy gets the girl. In this movie, the bad guy is left with the girl, and her fate is probably not good. The role of women in the Ocean’s movies is, at best, problematic. Tess and Isabel end up partners with criminals, although Danny and Rusty are at least loyal criminals. Not the worst choice the ladies could have made, but not exactly a wise choice, either.
Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin) not only works for the worst of the bad, but she allows herself to be manipulated into unknowingly betraying him. She is a specimen of two of the worst stenotypes of women: both the heartless bitch and the oversexed slut. As the only major female character in the film, this is a travesty.
This weekend, Ocean’s 8 opens with the title roles all being portrayed by women. Will this movie redeem the legacy from its sexist past? We shall see.