Movie Review: Ocean’s 8

oceans 8 posterUsually in a movie like this, one actor will break out and steal every scene they’re in. Somehow, Ocean’s 8 manages to assemble a crew of master thieves who steal every scene from each other and more. Every performance is delightful and fun and a cure for any summertime blues or blockbuster fatigue you may be feeling.

The film completely understands its pedigree and apes the best of the previous Ocean’s caper films with its emphasis on style, fun and personal stakes beyond just whether the thieves pull off their crime.

Sandra Bullock plays the eponymous Debbie Ocean (sister of Danny Ocean from the other films). The film’s opening plays an explicit homage to the opening of Ocean’s 11, with a parole hearing and Debbie being released to the outside world. And then we begin to see exactly how different from (and probably better than) her brother she is.

Yes, she assembles a crew to pull off an impossible heist — in this case to steal a $150 million dollar diamond necklace at the Met Gala in New York — but she runs things differently and has personal reasons for what she’s doing.

Her right-hand woman is Lou (Cate Blanchett) who helps her assemble the team. Remember the scene stealing problem? Here are the main culprits:

Helena Bonham Carter plays a somewhat batty washed-up fashion designer. She is having so much fun with the role and is one of her best performances is years.
Anne Hathaway is playing Hollywood starlet Daphne Kluger, the mark from around whose neck the crew will have to steal the diamonds. Her performance is pure magic as a crippling indictment of the shallow, vapid personas of the Hollywood elite. And then in the final act it becomes something more, as you realize the actress is acting, too, and she’s only pretending to be that stupid, because that’s what society demands of her. It’s one of those classic “not just a pretty face” moments sets up a beautiful confrontation in the third act that completely flips the movie on its head. She is the Rosetta Stone of the film. More on this in a moment.
Awkwafina plays a pickpocket who can’t help but lift every single frame of the movie she’s in. She’s so delightful and compelling.
Rihanna is a master hacker who also is just a good thief. Rather than play up the “socially awkward nerd” trope, she’s just a normal human being who happens to be good with computers.
Sarah Paulson is a seemingly bored housewife who is secretly a criminal mastermind, selling stolen goods from her garage covering as having an EBay business.
Mindy Kaling is a jeweler henpecked by her mother who wants her to get married.

On top of this, you also have some incredibly fun other members of the cast including Richard Armitage as a dashing art dealer and a fun third act turn by a cast-against-type James Corden as an insurance inspector hot on the trail of our protagonists.

Each of them is so perfect and has specific things to do and a character arc. Of all of them, I would complain that Kaling’s character is a little bit underwritten, but her natural charisma more than compensates for any script deficiencies, as does a fun little bit about her learning how to use Tinder.

Speaking of the script, this was written and directed by Gary Ross, who has written some of my personal favorite movies like Big and Dave as well as writing and directing the first Hunger Games. Ross is good here and especially adept at writing and directing this cast of luminaries, but if there’s one complaint it’s that he’s not quite Steven Soderbergh, who just directed the hell out of Ocean’s 11. He’s also not quite Ted Griffin, who wrote the 2001 screenplay as well as other caper projects like Matchstick Men and the-yes-I’m-still-mad-this-got-cancelled-yes-as-mad-as-people-are-about-Firefly tv show Terriers. Ross apes the style and feel very well, but it’s missing a little bit of that je ne sais cuoi. One might argue that a female writer and director could’ve better brought this to the screen, but you have to give Ross a lot of credit for doing this so well, and it’s hard to judge against a hypothetical. Regardless, this isn’t a failing. This is still a strong script and strong direction.

One of the best pieces of the film is understanding its deepest meaning. In 2018, it should no longer be remarkable to have a female-forward cast. It’s almost trite and simple now to simply say, “Yeah! Girl power! Women can lead movies, too!” or “Diverse casts are awesome!” because, ya-doy, look at the box office.

Whenever some Status Quo Warrior (SQW, nee SJW) defender of the white male hedgemony gets his snowflake knickers in a twist and decides to start a tiki torch parade, all you have to do is look at the box office and what’s making money. All of our top-grossing films now have diverse casts and most have strong female leads.

What is most remarkable about Ocean’s 8 is that, yes, on the surface, you could gender swap every role and it would work the same. The same that Kaling, Rihanna, and Awkwafina’s characters could all be played by white people. But the point is that they’re not and they bring specifically bits of what it is to be, for example, the daughter of Indian parents who expect you to be married already, or how being a black woman allows for such erasure that you can easily sneak into a secure office building by posing as a janitor.

This leads to another of the film’s Rosetta Stone moments. When discussing their plans, Blanchett and Bullock are discussing bringing on another crew member who might be a man. Bullock stops her and points out that men get noticed. Women get ignored. And in this case, they want to get ignored. That’s part of the con.

If that doesn’t stop and make you think for a second, you missed the heart of this movie. Mix this with our Hollywood starlet intentionally playing dumb and vapid to meet everyone’s expectations, and it really skewers the soft bigotry of low expectations. Yes, there is an equality in terms of “women can do anything that men can do.” But in this case, it’s how society still treats women, and especially women of color, differently and ignores them that is the main point. Ultimately the caper that gets pulled here is on us.

But even if that social message breezes right by you (it’s quite subtle, like all good heist movies) you’re just left with so much fun. Every single one of these performances will bring a smile to your face just out of sheer enjoyment. Even with my most favorite films of the year so far, I didn’t get as much pure joy and fun out of them– often because they were more serious or dour.

But this is that time of year when blockbuster fatigue really starts to set in. Alongside this week’s release of Hereditary, these two films provide a beautiful counterprogramming to everything not clad in spandex and full of CGI and explosions. And if you’re not in the mood to have the bejeezus scared out of you, then this is your movie. Ocean’s 8 is that perfect summer poolside cocktail meant to be sipped and enjoyed over and over.

3.75 out of 5 stars


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