The Ocean’s trilogy is a cinematic cult classic. We have taken a closer look at the series’ first instalment, directed by Steven Soderbergh and released in 2001. Take a look on the spy gadgets used in the film!

Plot

Danny Ocean, portrayed by George Clooney, is a prominent American thief. After serving his time in a prison, he decides to earn some money in a not exactly legal way. The plan he devised seemed spectacular, and apparently impossible to realise.

Charming Ocean targeted a Las Vegas casino vault, to which the money from three other largest casinos in the city were transferred. Due to numerous protective measures, security guards and the structure of the building itself, the heist seemed impossible to conduct. Clearly it was not a one-man job, therefore the protagonist decided to recruit a group of specialists, portrayed by exceptional actors such as Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, or Julia Roberts. Ultimately, Danny’s crew would include a pickpocket, an acrobat, a computer system expert, and a demolition specialist, with only the casino owner standing on their path to fortune.

Security measures

The eleven daredevils faced a very tough nut to crack. One could not simply walk into the vault and leave carrying bags full of money. The film depicted three such attempts, all of them ending with the thieves’ death.
The Las Vegas vault heist required numerous preparations:

  • Security guard recon – learning their working habits, as well as personal issues
  • Obtaining the casino building’s blueprints
  • Constructing a replica of the vault
  • Intercepting the image from the vault’s cameras
  • Preparing fake recordings of the vault
  • Acquiring an electromagnetic pulse device

Stage one was to enter the vault in the basement. Within, just above the ground, a laser motion detection system was mounted. The acrobat was able to bypass it using his skills, and to place explosive charges on the vault’s state-of-the-art door without triggering the alarm. Similar motion detection systems can be found in real life as well – even though phototraps do not emit a visible laser beam, they are motion triggered, much like the system mounted in the vault. IR diodes allow such systems to operate in complete darkness.
The acrobat managed to get into the basement with the help of two of his associates, who hid him in a special cart and handed over to the staff to be placed in the vault. The way there was not an easy one too – there was a permit check at first, and later an elevator equipped with advanced security measures, such as:

  • 6-digit code changed every 12 hours
  • fingerprint line scanner

Such systems can be found not only in films, but even in mobile phones!
Breaching the door required placing explosives on one side, and the detonators on the other. To do it, two other thieves had to reach the outside of the vault. How did they get in there? Through the elevator shaft. It was not easy, as the shaft was rigged with laser beams, triggering the alarm when broken. To deactivate them, the protagonists had to black out the city for a moment, using a device generating an electromagnetic pulse. It knocked out the lasers, allowing the thieves to climb down the shaft.


The door was breached, the money taken away… or was it? During the heist a SWAT team appeared at the scene, summoned by the casino staff. No intruders were found inside though, and the vault was blown up by special forces during their intervention.

It turned out that with the vault’s replica at their disposal, Danny’s crew recorded the heist scene and swapped the original recording in the casino for it. The cash was spirited away before the staff noticed anything. Who took it? Having intercepted the emergency call made by the casino staff to summon SWAT teams, Ocean’s computer expert answered the call and, pretending to be a 911 dispatcher, sent in the titular eleven disguised as SWAT operatives. They managed to get the money out in their police bags, replacing them with leaflets in the vault. Even though phone call interception is very difficult and nigh impossible for non-specialists, it is entirely possible to listen in to phone conversations, or to inspect text messages, e.g. using smartphones with SpyPhone software.

Casino security is without a doubt very difficult to breach, and obtaining the building blueprint seems well beyond the reach of the Average Joe. Could this Hollywood-esque job have actually succeeded? The film depicts the security measures – and the ways to bypass them – rather feasibly. Nevertheless, an attempt to break in, as well as to leave unnoticed with a bag full of cash, would prove extremely difficult.