Review: “Ocean’s 8”

3.5 out of 5 stars.

There’s one moment in “Ocean’s 8” that calls out the necessity of an all-female reboot of the franchise, when Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) and her partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) are going over potential hires for their big heist.  When Lou brings up a male candidate and Debbie immediately says no to him, Lou asks her why she is hiring only women for their team, to which Debbie replies that nobody pays that kind of attention to women, and they need that anonymity to pull off this job.  It’s an explanation that works within the plot of the movie, but that also serves as a reminder of the poor representation of women in the film industry.  “Ocean’s 8” attempts to give a large and diverse group of women the sort of roles they don’t often receive, and while there’s a lot about the film that isn’t great, it still delivers the thrills and fun that moviegoers look for in a heist movie.

Directed by Gary Ross, “Ocean’s 8” is a spin-off of the male-dominated trilogy that began with “Ocean’s Eleven” and starred George Clooney as con artist Danny Ocean.  In this film, Bullock’s Debbie is his sister, and has just been released from prison after being convicted of fraud.  She spent all five years in prison planning an elaborate heist, set during the annual Met Gala.  The target: the Toussaint, a diamond necklace worth $150 million and that is normally kept in a vault 50 feet underground, but that Debbie plans to get celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear to the Gala and get it out in the open.  Debbie meets up with her old friend Lou and together they recruit a team of women with a variety of skills—from hacker to fashion designer to jewelry maker—to pull off the job and give them all the money they could ever want.

The all-star cast of “Ocean’s 8” is excellent and includes Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, and Awkwafina.  James Corden makes an appearance as an insurance agent, Richard Armitage is art dealer Claude Becker, who ends up being part of the scheme, and a bevy of other celebrities make cameo appearances, including a couple familiar faces from the previous “Ocean’s” films for the fans that are familiar with them (although you don’t have to remember or have seen those movies to follow this one).  But the stand-outs in the cast are Bullock and Hathaway.  Bullock is convincing as a scheming con artist, and we get to see her at work almost immediately in a delightful sequence that takes place directly after Debbie gets out of jail.  She’s smooth, tough, and confident—perhaps a bit over-confident.  Hathaway is a riot playing a character who is a parody of Hollywood glamor and stardom, from her breathy delivery to her jealousy of rival movie stars to her conceited attitude.  It’s fun to watch her having so much fun, and it’s Hathaway’s best role in a long, long time.

Ocean's 8 2
Lou (Cate Blanchett) and Debbie (Sandra Bullock)

In fact, the whole movie overall is fun to watch.  It isn’t as complicated as the heists in the “Ocean’s” trilogy, but there are still a lot of twists and the film keeps the audience engaged trying to figure out what is going to happen next.  “Ocean’s 8” can really be broken down into three parts: the first is Debbie getting the crew together and preparing for the heist.  These scenes rely mainly on the characters’ chemistry and derive a lot of humor from that, and feed us just enough information about what is going into the plan without giving away the details of the plan.  This way, by the time we get to part two (the heist itself) the audience is still left in suspense as to what exactly their plan is.  This is the most thrilling part of the movie, and the most easy on the eyes.  While the cinematography in the rest of the film isn’t anything special, here the camera smoothly zips among the characters as they carry out their plan, while the costumes and setting (this film works great as a mini tour of the Met) add a glossy overtone to the proceedings.  However, the stakes never really feel that high; we keep thinking that at some point some massive hitch is going to come along and throw off their plans, but that never happens.  Potential conflicts that could have made the story more interesting are glossed over, like the introduction of Becker, who happens to be Debbie’s ex-boyfriend and the man who got her convicted of fraud.  There’s a moment in the film that seems like he might cause the whole plan to unravel, and even Lou gives a bit of foreshadowing about it, but it ends up being a non-issue.

The film struggles by the time we get to part three, which involves the investigation after the heist.  The Met Gala is the climax of the film, and everything after that is drawn out for an unnecessarily long time.  In fact, it’s almost too much; the last twenty minutes or so likely could have been greatly condensed or even entirely cut from the film and it would have worked much better.

Another part of this final act being a problem is the minimal character development this film offers.  The end of the film tries to tie up all these loose ends involving the characters, but we hardly get to know any of the characters in the first place, so why should that matter?  Most of the members of the 8 are defined by their quirks, not by their backstory.  We learn the most about Debbie, but even the bulk of her story involves her relationship with Becker, and the realization that her plan was crafted primarily for revenge on him is a let-down for a film that should be providing more depth to its female characters.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s great that this movie was made, and this cast and the entertainment value they provide make me interested in seeing more.  But the more you think about the movie , the more all its flaws become apparent.  And for all it does to give women a stronger role, it also highlights what more can still be improved upon.

Runtime: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.


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