Caper stories are fun entertainment. The Danny Ocean franchise does it well because they show us everything and then still fool us with the action.
The caper story conventions
One of the weird things about caper movies is that they break the usual rules. They show us everything that is going to happen and then they show it happening as everything goes wrong.
There are a few that go dark, where everything does go wrong, or there’s a twist of revenge that taints it. For the most part, the caper tends toward the comedic side of the scale.
Why I think it works
The big thing for me in caper movies is the feeling of being on the team. When Danny Ocean explains the job and we watch the walk-throughs, I’m in the room and involved in the planning. In the back of my head is the voice saying, ‘it’s going to go pear shaped’, but I still want them to succeed.
Then the action starts and I know there are things happening behind the scenes, but by now I’m on the side of the criminals. The caper is about getting justice, whether we know it or not up front, and I’m all for justice.
When the real reveal happens
Now is the point where the story can break. The reader or viewer can be entertained by the caper reveal, or can be left feeling like the victim. If the reveal is good, I am going to laugh along with the team as they show me how they created the illusion of problems. If the reveal is bad, I’ll feel tricked and I won’t go further.
The characters in a caper movie are the key. Everyone needs to be competent in their role, but have a quirk or flaw. The story takes the quirks and flaws as fodder for the failures. Then the strengths of other team members come into play to keep the caper on track.