Matt Damon’s characterization of Linus Caldwell in Ocean’s Eleven is happily pretty hard to forget. Linus undergoes a metamorphosis, though, in Ocean’s Twelve that remains prominent in Ocean’s Thirteen. Was this metamorphosis a good change or a bad change?
First, what wasn’t changed about Linus? In Ocean’s Twelve Linus remains the gum chewer, albeit not as habitually. Perhaps director Steven Soderbergh felt that two jaws in perpetual motion was a bit much for one set of films. Two jaws, you ask? Of course you noticed Rusty and corn chips, Rusty and salad, Rusty and some frozen yellow and red thing, Rusty and shrimp cocktail, Rusty and nachos, Rusty and an upside down white plastic spoon, Rusty and a hamburger….
So what changed? Linus starts out in Chicago as a bold pick-pocket. At Ruben’s house in Las Vegas, we learn that Linus has a streak of independence when he speaks up and calls the plan a “snatch and dash.” We later see that Linus isn’t intimidated by experience when he replies to Rusty’s question of “Scared?” with “Are you suicidal?” roughly meaning, “You’re out of your mind if you’re not scared!”
Three more things we learn about Linus serve as the link between the Linus of Ocean’s Eleven and the Linus of the sequels. Linus shows son-like deference to Danny first noticeable when Linus says “With you” in reply to Danny’s query of “Where are you going?” at the van on the way to collect the pinch. Linus uses the same open tone in the elevator shaft when he asks Danny what the argument with Rusty had been “all about.” Danny doesn’t answer because it was part of an elaborate con to get Linus—who lacks confidence, we discover—to trigger the vault, which means to pick Benedict’s pocket to get the six security codes.
These last traits, the deference, the openness, the lack of confidence are what’s played up and capitalized on in Ocean’s Twelve and then again in Ocean’s Thirteen. Instead of standing up to Rusty in Ocean’s Twelve, Linus hesitatingly asks for his blessing on taking more of a leadership role. Also, Linus only chews gum when he is deftly and briskly pursuing an assignment, like when he switches the Faberge Egg for a replica on board the train.
The traits that would have made Linus a rival to Rusty and Danny are superseded in Ocean’s Twelve--a characterization direction carried forward in Ocean’s Thirteen--by the traits that make him require Rusty and Danny as mentors (“Who do you go to when you need something?” “Rusty.”). Were the changes good?
The changes in Linus’s characterization may have been considered necessary for the continuation of the Ocean’s franchise. His metamorphosis keeps the gang all working together harmoniously, even if in a slightly discordant imbalance. Still, I miss the first Linus, and I suggest that the changes move Linus uncomfortably toward a stereotype.
so, was the metamorphosis a good change or a bad change? Whether you think the changes to Linus are good or slightly unfortunate, Damon's characterization of Linus--all of them--make Linus a Hollywood immortal, and the Ocean’s movies are all good family fare, provided you can emphasize that in real life criminality should not be a goal and criminals should not be your best friends.