OCEAN'S 8: Featured

The film OCEAN’S 8, so far, has been all about defying expectations. After the pre- and post-release treatment of the “all-women” GHOSTBUSTERS, many understandably expected a similar public pillaring. After all, it bore the name of a male-dominated existing franchise but was set to star mostly women. Additionally, the OCEAN’S franchise had been well-regarded by critics and fans alike. However, beyond some mild grumbling, OCEAN’S 8 ended largely avoiding the same kind of digital hate.

Do they continue to defy expectation with the film itself, however? Only one way to find out: read this review!

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The OCEAN’S 8 cast lines up all helpful-like in promotional material for the film. (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures)

The Idea Behind OCEAN’S 8

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) — younger sister of the evidently deceased Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney in Soderbergh’s trilogy) — convinces a parole board to let her out of prison early for a fine art scam that went belly up when her partner, Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) betrayed her.

Now on the streets, she immediately sets out proving the parole board made a terrible mistake. She starts by teaming up with Lou (Cate Blanchett), the other partner, the one that didn’t let her down. Together, they assemble a team of new and old friends — hacker Nine-Ball (Rihanna), fence turned suburban mom but really still a fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson), pickpocket and hustler Constance (Awkwafina), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), and dressmaker/tax dodger Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter).

The job: steal a 6-pound diamond necklace off the neck of one of the world’s most popular actors, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). And possibly — probably — settle some other scores along the way.

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The Writing

The script does not crackle with quick line and volley dialog the way a lot of heist films do. While I typically eat up that sort of thing with a spoon, I did not miss it here. That kind of jittery, caffeinated, competing to be the cleverest in the room vibe would not fit with these characters.

With the exception of Rose, all the characters excel at what they do and know it. Even Debbie, the one amongst them that has been busted, recognizes it had little to do with her skill and everything to do with her libido. Therefore, they have a cool confidence to them that plays into their dialogue. They speak easy and smooth. They don’t hurry on a job unless necessary and, similarly, they don’t hurry when they speak unless necessary.

That having been said, I would have liked a little more zest in the script. It nicely captures the attitudes of the women, but the lines spoken are kind of bland. The script sets up solid setpieces and excellent dynamics, but the actual words never pop.

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Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett get down to business, breakfast in a scene from OCEAN’S 8. (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures)

Casting the Leads of OCEAN’S 8

As the above implies, the film lives and dies on the cast’s ability to make the lines work despite their rather boilerplate nature. Thankfully for OCEAN’S 8, everyone is up to the task.

Blanchett is incredible. Period. I love everything about her low-key Lou, a criminal who is typically satisfied with a repeated easy score over swinging for the fences. Her sort of lazy energy is a great contrast to Debbie’s type-A scheming.

Oddly enough, I’d say Bullock suffers in comparison, but that might have a lot to do with expectations. Bullock has proven herself an actor of considerable talents. Near the top of these talents is a kind of livewire comedic energy. However, to play Debbie, she more or less holsters that gift. She’s still good in the role, but I wish she could’ve been a touch more fun, I suppose.

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Casting the Rest of the Ensemble of OCEAN’S 8

Bonham-Carter probably fairs the worst of the leading ladies, but, again, she also has the one outlier role. She is a novice in the con and heist game, the only one who’s in out of desperation and not just kicks and cash — and possibly revenge. So her not fitting the rhythm means she is not as fun, but it makes sense for her character.

Rihanna has just nonstop cool. She easily proves that BATTLESHIP was the problem, not her. I don’t want to overstate things, but she is all shimmery charisma onscreen.

Awkwafina and Kaling arguably have the least to do but boast such comedic gifts that they do not get lost in the shuffle.

Paulson’s suburban mom with an addiction nicely subverts the trope. For one, the addiction is not a snuck glass of wine or a pill bottle of “little helpers,” but a massive fencing operation focused around those items that upper-middle-class suburbanites need to keep up with the Joneses.

One of my favorite scenes in the whole movie belongs to her and Bullock. Much has already been made of the queer content of the film but no moment is heavier with it than this one. Debbie and Tammy hide out in her garage to discuss the score with Tammy resistant and Debbie subtly seductive. One of Tammy’s kids interrupts, and she quickly shoos them away. The whole thing feels like the lesbian lover Tammy left behind to find white suburban respectability has returned to remind her how much fun being disreputable is. I just adored the vibe both brought to it.

Last, but certainly not least, Hathaway became the designated scene-stealer of this movie. She loads her character with every lousy assumption ever made about her and turns into a “don’t look away” performance.

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Casting the Rest of the OCEAN’S 8 Call Sheet

Armitage is competently arrogant and cowardly as Bullock’s ex/backstabber. It is a thin role but he does what is asked.

James Corden arrives too late in the movie to register as the threat the script seems to want him to be. Still, I like what he does with the role, one part exasperation, one part try-too-hard showoff.

Everything else notable amounts to well-deployed cameos throughout the film. They wisely chose to avoid the glut that started to choke the “male” OCEAN’S films. The movie’s limited use of previous OCEAN’S actors works too. They make sense in the film’s context, and there aren’t so many as to overwhelm — again, see GHOSTBUSTERS.

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Sarah Paulson, Sandra Bullock, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, and Awkwafina hack the mainframe in a scene from OCEAN’S 8 (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures)

Filming

I like Gary Ross. I think he has been generally competent in the films he directs, even when I do not love them. That said, the man in no Soderbergh and that shows onscreen.

Of course, in the past, I have expressed that I generally felt like Soderbergh’s OCEAN’S films were wildly diverting affairs dressed up as art. In particular, the fountain scene at the end of ELEVEN may have prompted a few dismissive choice words on my part.

That said, there is a difference between too much style and none at all. A middle ground where flair elevates but does not overwhelm the material. Ross does not find that middle ground and ends far more on the zero style side of the equation.

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Helena Bonham-Carter and Mindy Kaling plot to give their necks a cold in OCEAN’S 8. (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures)

That’s a Wrap

OCEAN’S 8 is a frothy trifle. Bright, shiny, and a little insubstantial. The directing is pretty bland, and the score does not compare to its predecessor films.

However, it has a great energy, and the chemistry between the actresses is fun. Plus, Blanchett, Paulson, and Hathaway deliver some grade A material elevation. It is a feel-good hangout where you can just sit back and let the vibes wash over you. And, really, that’s what the OCEAN’S movies have always had going for them.

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