It’s important, for full disclosure, to state that I have a deep beloved history with all the previous incantations of the Ocean’s films. The original Rat Pack Ocean’s 11 was something my father introduced to me, as I was raised on a healthy dose of Frank, Dean, and Sammy. In that original film, SPOILER ALERT, the heist goes awry, with a member of the crew dying of a heart attack and the stolen money being mistakenly cremated with the body. That film and it’s twist then supplemented my experience with the first Ocean’s film from Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, giving me a level of “will they or won’t they” anxiety when it came to the success of that heist. When Saul started having his health issues, I was young enough to question if the job would echo the failure in the original.
Fortunately, I think, for us, the heist in Ocean’s Eleven was a success, with all of our boys walking into the sunset. Sure they ran into obstacles, but they always overcame with with wit and charm even if it was by a razor thin margin. Ocean’s Twelve still feels like the more experimental of the original trilogy, with the vibe of a film made on a European vacation between a group of friends. It has since, in my opinion, become vastly underrated, and might be the straight up funniest of the three films. The capper, Ocean’s Thirteen, feels like a love letter to Las Vegas and a culmination of an odd, art-house driven, commercially successful trilogy with a powerhouse cast and an auteur director. Every one of the films see those crews pushed up against their limits, with curve-balls thrown at them left and right and their ability to improvise being one of their key strengths.
Fortunately, the newest film in the franchise, Ocean’s Eight (as the title reads in the film itself), carries over a lot of the charm, wit, and style of the originals. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really have the same level of twists that really make heist films what they are, coasting by on that charm and dealing with any conceivable ‘twist’ with the wave of a hand and a smile.
Ocean’s Eight follows many of the same beats as Clooney’s first installment, with an Ocean (this time his sister, Debbie) being released from prison and almost immediately getting back into the con artist game. Instead of pulling the rug out from under a gang of Teen Beat cover boys like Danny, Debbie uses some pretty entertaining tricks to pinch hundreds of dollars of merchandise and a swanky hotel room. Afterwards, she begins gathering up a team of crooks and cons to pull down a big dollar score and possibly take down a personal score as well.
The foundation and strength of Ocean’s Eight is in it’s cast, and it really is a doozy of top flight female talent in Hollywood right now. Sandra Bullock is cruising through the film as Debbie Ocean, and Cate Blanchett is charming and cool as her right hand woman, Lou. The rest of the crew is filled with big names, though some are given more to do than others. Mindy Kaling sadly finds herself wasted in her second movie this season (the first being A Wrinkle in Time). Someone get Mindy her own movie where she can be sassy and sarcastic and great! Sarah Paulson is given plenty to do but fails to really register on the personality scale, serving as the straight woman for many of her positions in the con.
Rising above the others are Rihanna and Awkwafina, the two mononymous members of the crew, who fair much better. Rihanna plays her hacker stoner with a level of chill that rubs off on the audience. Meanwhile Awkwafina, as the pickpocket, fills in as the small-time jackie-of-all-trades, similar to the Mulloy brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) in the previous trilogy. Helena Bonham Carter is delightfully exasperated and aloof, adorably playing along with the plans of Debbie and Lou. But by god, it’s Anne Hathaway yet again stealing the show as clueless socialite Daphne Klugar. Hathaway is by far the most interesting character in the film, and has a few character moments that absolutely soar above the rest of the film. It should be said that both James Corden and Richard Armitage are perfectly serviceable as well, though their roles are ultimately minor.
Gary Ross takes over the reigns for Steven Soderbergh, and the trade down is noticeable. That’s not the say the film isn’t well directed, as it is a perfectly fine effort. Ross is no spring chicken, having directed films like Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, and the first Hunger Games film, but Soderbergh he is not. The film lacks the overall style that the Ocean’s films have been known for, despite it still looking like a million bucks through the lens of cinematographer Eigil Bryld. Daniel Pemberton takes over music duties from David Holmes, and does a damn good job of adding to the unique sound that has come with these films.
Where the film really has trouble is in it’s script. A good heist film is made up of very specific parts, even if those parts are recycled over and over again. Proper motivation. Putting the crew together. Making the plan. Executing the plan. Things going wrong. Wash, rinse, repeat. The problem with the script by Ross and Olivia Milch is that it never once seems like the girls are going to fail. Debbie states a handful of times that she has planned this out to every last detail, and her confidence robs the film of any type of suspense. There are a few nods to the previous films with a few surprise cameos and one even bigger surprise fate revealed at the start of the film that I have to imagine won’t stick if this film is truly a success.
However, seeing the ladies hanging around, scheming together is still enough to make the film a good time. Watching them bounce off of one another, with a funny reaction shot here or there, never really gets old. The final reveal of how the heist truly went down somehow feels like a satisfying twist and a cop out at the very same time.
Ocean’s Eight takes some of the best parts of the previous films and continues them on. It’s a showcase of superstar actresses getting together on screen and having a good time being bad. It’s a breezy caper that has more style, charm, and high-class fashion than it does suspense. Every issue is solved as soon as it arises, but that doesn’t make the heist any less fun to see pulled off. For a film who’s trailers really marketed the cast rather than the plot, I can’t fault it too much for delivering on that front. It’s a perfectly fine, funny, and carefree; a great female driven caper, but not a very good heist film.
The Final Pop
Ocean’s Eight delivers on the promise of a star-studded cast sharing the screen and having a blast. It has all the charm and wit of the previous trilogy, but sadly lacks in the actual heist department. Regardless, it’s a breeze of a watch that won’t stress you out and will have you wishing you could have some of the friends and fashion on display.
Movie Theater Popcorn