Now, all that said, I have to say that there is one exception to the piling-it-on problem that I am a huge fan of. I’ll call it The Caper. It’s where Our Hero goes through the whole story, falling behind and desperately trying to catch up to his opponent, all the way up to the end of the story where it’s revealed that not only was he not behind at all, but he was so far ahead that his opponent is left stunned and stammering. Looking like he was losing was an important aspect of his plan the whole time, however, so he willingly played the fool.
The best examples of this are, honestly, the Oceans movies. The dying-fish routine was done really well at the end of Twelve, but as my husband points out that movie was sort of “Brad Pitt and Goerge Clooney take their friends to Europe and screw around.” Eleven was good, but I’ll talk about Thirteen since I think it’s the best of them.
Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney, but you knew that) is a con man with a moral code that is attacked at the top of the movie. His friend Reuben is cheated out of his share of a hot new casino and has a massive heart attack. Ocean and his buddies get together to offer the villain Willy Bank (played by Al Pacino and oh man is he good,) a chance to make things right, and when he refuses they work a very long, complicated series of cons to ruin the man. Every step of the way we watch things go horribly wrong: They can’t get past the fancy super-genius AI anti-cheating security system. The expensive equipment they need to make their escape plan work breaks down and they have to go begging for more money to fund a new one. They are now required to also steal un-stealable jewels from the villain. Their tech guy has a long string of complicated problems that he can’t seem to work through and bumbles around so hard you almost wonder why they keep him on the team.
The whole, elaborate ruse is teetering on failure the whole time, which would bring financial ruin on the heads of the whole crew, possibly kill Reuben, and leave the easy to despise Willy Bank at the top of the pile. We see the villains of the previous two movies, one persuaded in a desperate moment to align his goals with our heroes, and the other very definitely gunning for them. We see the individual cons falling apart left and right. People are arrested. The FBI database is hacked. Jewels are stolen and then stolen again. There’s a revolt in a Mexican plastics factory. Everything goes horribly wrong.
Until the end. That shouldn’t be a surprise I hope, since that’s basically the point of this whole post, and come on. It’s an Ocean’s movie. If you didn’t see him winning, in the end, you weren’t thinking very hard. I won’t spoil for you how it all comes together if you haven’t seen it yet since it’s just so perfect, but the look on Willy Bank’s face when he understands what just happened… sorry, I’m getting a little carried away.
The point I’m trying to make here is that the whole movie you know perfectly well that it will all come together in the end. Danny Ocean is humble and relaxed, but supremely confident in the face of every setback, but they are definitely presented as setbacks. The movie isn’t about if they’ll come out victorious, but how did they DO that? It’s like watching a long, elaborate magic trick. It’s a chess game, and the Hero is thinking twenty or thirty moves down the line, while his opponent is thinking three or four. Or maybe even playing checkers.
That’s the kind of piling it on that I can watch (or read) all damn day, and honestly, probably all through the night just to finish the book.