Ocean’s 8

The central takeaway of OCEAN’S 8 is that women get things done – and they do it in spite of adversity. The film is an unabashed celebration of the female spirit, while also being an enjoyable heist film that anyone can enjoy.

OCEAN’S 8 serves as a pseudo-sequel to the three OCEAN’S 11 films that came out in the 2000s. It’s not required to watch those films before taking in OCEAN’S 8, though. This film is an entirely new story with an entirely new cast of characters. There are some callbacks to OCEAN’S 11, but this film is meant to stand apart from the rest of the series.

In OCEAN’S 8, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) and Lou (Cate Blanchett) plan a heist to rob the Met Gala and steal a $150 million diamond necklace. They can’t do it alone, though. Realizing that they will need a crew, they build a women-only group (as Debbie Ocean succinctly sums it up: “A him gets noticed, a her gets ignored – and for once, we want to be ignored”). So they recruit Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), Amita (Mindy Kaling), Nine Ball (Rihanna), Constance (Awkwafina), and Tammy (Sarah Paulson). The group’s plan hinges on manipulating actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) into being an unwitting patsy for their big heist.

I adored Anne Hathaway in this film. Her character was simply a skewed caricature of herself, and Hathaway threw herself completely into the role. Daphne was definitely among the most nuanced characters in the film, and while I relished her bon vivant attitude – she’s got a deeper side that the film explores.

I was, however, very disappointed in the performances from Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett. As Debbie Ocean, Bullock was relegated to playing the straight man in this heist film. She’s got a few zingers, but the bulk of her character arc is to drive the story forward. She’s serious, occasionally intense, but never really fun to watch. The film also uses Cate Blanchett to poor effect. Blanchett is an outstanding actress, and she typically commands the attention of the audience in whatever film she’s in. But in OCEAN’S 8, she just floats through the film. Her motivation is murky, and her character vacillates wildly between comical, serious, and wacky.

This film has an ensemble cast, and some are stronger than others. I really enjoyed Nine Ball and Constance – two strong characters that are totally confident in their abilities. Nine Ball is the group’s hacker, and Constance is a pickpocket. The two provide the bulk of the film’s laughs. Even without a ton of screen time, the two manage to bring memorable performances. Other characters, however, fall flat. I typically enjoy Mindy Kaling, but her performance as Amita was thoroughly unmemorable. As for Helena Bonham Carter, your mileage may vary – I find Carter to be an acquired taste, but I enjoyed her flighty character in this film. Sarah Paulson’s performance as Tammy was great, but I wish we got more of her.

This is a heist film, and it follows a pretty generic heist formula. The first third of the film is all setup – we meet all of ensemble cast as Debbie recruits them for the heist. The second third of the film is the preparation of the heist. The rest of the film is the heist, the twist, and the inevitable fallout. When the film follows this slavish formula, it’s boring. When it branches off and goes in new directions, it’s much more exciting and fresh. For me, I found the setup boring – I typically do in these kinds of films. It’s just an extended introduction, but as a result, the characters feel more like caricatures than real people. Once the heist planning begins, the characters start to come alive and the plan begins to form. With the heist and the fallout, I was hooked. It was a very fun way to end the film, and the best part is that the heist wasn’t even the climax. There is a very satisfying twist in OCEAN’S 8 that makes the events of the film feel personal – this isn’t simply about stealing a diamond necklace.

For me, the most frustrating part of OCEAN’S 8 is the over-reliance on nostalgia. Debbie visits her brother’s grave (Danny Ocean, played by George Clooney in the OCEAN’S 11 films), and the film coyly hints that Danny has faked his death. There are moments when the camera lingers at a picture of Danny, some of his associates make cameo appearances… it’s all a big wink to the audience. A hey, we didn’t forget about the guy who used to be the main character moment. It was so heavy-handed that it felt like it was setting up the inevitable sequel. What annoyed me the most about this, though, was that it adds nothing to the story. Every single reference to Danny Ocean could have been removed, and nothing would have been lost.

OCEAN’S 8 is a fun film, though it certainly is flawed. It has a solid heist, some very fun characters, and a story that resonates with the audience. It’s also extremely refreshing to see a film where the ensemble cast is almost entirely comprised of women. OCEAN’S 8 manages to avoid a lot of the common pitfalls that plague this genre – and the end result is an enjoyable film with heart and panache.

review-three-stars