Reading Movies… a long time ago

A bit of hindsight wisdom: If you ever decide to apply to grad school, do not postpone committing to the decision until 2 1/2 months before applications are due. Otherwise, you may find yourself with 1 1/2 months to prepare for both the regular GRE and your discipline’s subject test, and will have to put everything else in your life on hold, even favorite hobbies like participating in DS 106. Or learning to play classical guitar. (My fingers are going to be so sore the first time I build up the courage to pick up my guitar again.)

But now that the ordeal is done, I can finally pick up where I left off. Which is … Reading Movies from Week 10! Yes, as an open participant, I could easily skip this. But I enjoy film theory and visual analysis, and frankly the assignment sounded like fun.

I chose to analyze the scene from Ocean’s Twelve (2004) in which Rusty and Danny watch Oprah:

Often condemned as an unnecessary sequel that failed to capture the appeal of the first film (it even has a 56% critic rating and 67% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the film still has many charms. This scene happens to be one of  them; it captures the same quick but often subtle humor and tendency to make fun of the characters.

In the scene, Rusty comes to talk to Danny in his hotel room about progress related to their heist and find that Danny is crying, though Danny denies this. He then hears the TV in the living room and goes in to find that Danny was watching Oprah. Danny asks about the progress, and Rusty answers, but soon changes subject to talk about the TV show, clearly affected by the emotion scene taking place. The scene then cuts to Terry Benedict being interviewed by Oprah, and zooms out to show that Linus, Danny, and Rusty are watching the show in an airport.

The scene has very interesting use of camera angles and placement of the actors: Throughout the scene, Rusty is on the right, Danny is on the left. While talking in the entryway and then watching Oprah, Danny is not fully focused on what Rusty is talking about in relation to their plans. His attention is focused on the present, not the future. And he is in focus, in the foreground, reacting to the TV show. Rusty, on the other hand, is on the right, talking about the future, slightly out of focus in the background. Until he begins to react to the TV show as well. The camera shifts so that Rusty is in the foreground and in focus, paralleling the change in his attention and emotional state.

Rusty is also the one with agency; he initiates their movement to the living room, walking in front of Danny to reflect that he has the power in the situation. He has something to learn, while Danny has something to hide (why he was crying).

During the cut to Oprah’s inteview of Terry Benedict, the TV shifts from horizontal to diagonal, pointing towards the bottom right. The skew parallels Terry’s dishonesty. It is clear that he is not speaking candidly, that he was not emotionally affected by the charity that he donated to.

The camera zooms out to show Linus, Danny, and Rusty sitting in an airport watching the show. Their expressions are partially masked the by the sunglasses that they are each wearing, but it is apparent that Linus and Danny don’t believe Terry is being genuine. Rusty looks bored. As always, the characters’ positioning reflects how they relate to each other and the heist; Linus is inexperienced, he lacks insight, and is on the far left, while Rusty, who plans, who sees problems, who everyone, except for Danny, thinks is the leader, is on the far right. They are all in focus, all watching and reacting to the TV.

Watching the clip in three stages – video only, audio only, and then finally the full scene – changed how I watched it. I doubt I would have noticed all of the camera angles if I had been distracted by the audio. I don’t know that I gained anything from just listening to the audio, but upon combining them, the meaning of each camera angle became apparent. I also found it very interesting that I completely missed the fact that Danny was crying until the two were synced. Somehow neither the video alone nor the audio alone gave the necessary cues to realize that was what happened. My notes on these viewings are below.

Categorizing the film is somewhat difficult. It fits action, comedy, crime, even thriller according to IMDB. TV Tropes’ categorization of it as a Caper seems like the best fit. However, Roger Ebert gave an apt assessment of its fit to this genre: “This isn’t a caper movie at all, it’s an improvisation on caper themes.”

Indeed, the film is driven by characters’ personalities rather than any real complexities in the plot. Each of their heists is an obvious MacGuffin, and though some such as Roger Ebert appreciate this aspect, others have labeled the film as one of the worst sequels ever made. I suppose you can’t expect much, though, out of a film originally intended for John Woo.

Video Only:

  • peep hole
  • rusty looking in slightly right of center
  • rule of thirds
  • rusty appears taller, slightly in front
  • cuts in front moves left
  • back to rule of thirds
  • centered: oprah tv
  • danny left, in front, rusty right, background, slightly out of focus
  • then shift rusty in front, danny in back
  • cut to terry talking, skewed down right
  • zoom out, still on diagonal
  • talking to oprah
  • linus – danny  — rusty front left –> back right
  • all wearing sunglasses, watching the TV in an airport terminal

Audio Only:

  • knocking, footsteps and TV in background
  • Rusty starts talking, giving information
  • Danny sniffs – says he just bit into a pepper
  • Rusty takes agency, pushes/contradicts Danny, asks if he was watching Oprah
  • discuss show
  • Danny says happy for kids
  • asks about status in Mexico, tries to bring back to business
  • instead discuss Oprah more, more sniffs
  • Terry talking to Oprah about his charity
  • clearly lying – charitable donation not in character for him

Full Scene:

  • finally apparent that Danny was crying
  • At first tries to deny that he was watching, but then talks about the show, clearly affected by what was going on
  • camera shifts to rusty in focus as he is affected by the show as well
  • Terry is centered as he talks about donation face and tone don’t seem as affected by the inspiration for his donation as he claims
  • Linus looks skeptical, Danny looks amused, Rusty is difficult to read, all of them have partially occluded expressions because of the sunglasses
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