Step Aside Gentleman: Our Review Of ‘Ocean’s 8’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - June 08, 2018
Step Aside Gentleman: Our Review Of ‘Ocean’s 8’

The Ocean family is to crime what the Kennedy family is to politics. In 2001, the Ocean’s Eleven series’ dashing convict, Danny Ocean, raised the bar for heist movies. He put together a gang of charming crooks who were as at ease cracking safes as they were slipping into thousand-dollar suits. Gary Ross’ new film, Ocean’s 8, jumps ahead 20 years and brings us back to the Ocean’s series’ universe. This new entry changes the series’ successful formula – slightly. Instead of a bunch of scheming men, Ocean’s 8 offers eight scheming women.

We meet Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) just like we met her brother Danny in Ocean’s Eleven; at a parole hearing shortly before her release from prison. Once on the outside, Debbie falls back into old habits. Within hours of leaving her cell, we see Debbie hustling a salesperson for free makeup and conning her way into staying at an expensive hotel. It’s clear that going straight never crossed her mind. While in the slammer Debbie perfected the perfect crime: stealing a $150 million necklace during the Met Gala. To pull off the job she requires, wait for it, a crew of eight.

Debbie reaches out to some old friends and recruits some new ones. This crew includes her cool under pressure former sidekick Lou (Cate Blanchett); jittery fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), Amita (Mindy Kaling), a jeweller who can cut a diamond in the blink of an eye; master pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina); chilled out hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna); and “retired” fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson).

Gone are Ocean’s Eleven’s sunbaked Vegas streets, poolside rendezvous, and neon-lit skylines. Instead, Ocean’s 8 settles for a chillier aesthetic. Debbie storms through a high-end Manhattan department store, characters meet on park benches and collude in posh hotels overlooking Central Park. On a technical level, Ocean’s 8 retains the series’ familiar style. The movie’s slick editing uses lots of flashy cuts and scene transitions. Scenes end by morphing into comic-like panels before sliding off the screen. Other shots twist and flip around the screen like a break-dancer before introducing the next frame. And much of the action is still scored to jazzy music with frenetic drums.

Great heist movies work because the film lays down a clear set of rules for the job and establishes the stakes. The more difficult the job, the more complex the heist. The higher the stakes, the greater the drama. Ocean’s 8 features a great concept for a heist. Robbing a celebrity at the Met Gala looks impossible, offers a great setting, and throws a middle-finger to elites who buy hundred-million-dollar jewels. The best part of a heist movie is watching the anti-heroes put their plan into action, find a fault in the plan, and adjust on the fly. Ocean’s 8 follows this formula to a tee, making for a solid if unspectacular heist. This set of thieves are too cool and competent in their roles to make it feel like the job is in peril. It’s fun watching them work but the drama and tension aren’t quite there.

It’s tough for a film with this much talent to tell a story that serves the whole cast. Sure, Avengers: Infinity War did it but it’s also the length of a TV miniseries. Usually, these ensemble films service the headliners, the villain, and one of the supporting characters hops in to steal some scenes. This doesn’t happen in Ocean’s 8. Bullock and Blanchett aren’t compelling leads, the villain isn’t quite an antagonist, and the film’s biggest comedy relief character doesn’t show up until after the heist.

If Bullock is the heart and soul of the movie than Ocean’s 8 barely has a pule. Oscar winner Sandra Bullock, star of Academy Award-nominated films and comedies like The Heat, can do it all. But here, she’s transmitting Debbie’s feelings on a lower frequency than we’re used to from her. Part of it is Gary Ross and Olivia Milch’s script – which feels like it could use another pass – and part of it is Bullock trying to play hardened and cool. Instead, she comes off as subdued. I didn’t feel her seething rage towards the man who put her behind bars. I also didn’t feel any camaraderie with her cohort Lou or the ladies involved in the heist.

Lou looks the part of a savvy criminal and I loved watching Blanchette inhabit the role. Everything from Lou’s leather jackets to her confident strut and wry smirk says she’s a legit badass. But the film doesn’t do much to make her feel like a fleshed-out character. In one scene, she shows up to give this film’s version of Ocean’s Eleven’s, “Is this a job or revenge?” speech. And after that, she fades in and out of scenes to flawlessly pull off whatever chicanery the plot requires.

The character that makes the most use of their screen time is Anne Hathaway’s Daphne Kluger. It’s a blast watching an actress have this much fun in a role. Her performance takes the needy actress trope and tears it to shreds. Along with the tantrums, narcissism, and insecurity comes a cunning and perceptive woman. Hathaway is electric putting her talents to use in this popcorn flick. Her performance demands a repeat viewing.

Despite its stacked cast and the Ocean’s name behind it, Ocean’s 8 fails to earn a spot in the heist-movie pantheon alongside films like Heat, Inception, and Rififi. It doesn’t even qualify for the dumb-fun-heist movie corner with Fast FiveOcean’s 8 is a fine film, and that’s all. This movie feels as though someone aimed for good and then settled on good enough. It’s decent, passable, serviceable, and every other mediocre accolade you can think of. I looked forward to returning to the Ocean’s Eleven world and watching charismatic thieves steals some jewels while taking down a villain. Somehow, Ocean’s 8 checked those boxes but left me wanting more.

  • Release Date: 6/08/2018
This post was written by
Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based freelance writer and pop culture curator. Victor currently contributes insights, criticisms, and reviews to several online publications where he has extended coverage to the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada. Victor has a soft spot in his heart for Tim Burton movies and his two poorly behaved beagles (but not in that order).
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