The new installment of the Ocean’s franchise follows Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) immediately upon her release from jail. Her target? A multimillion dollar necklace, placed on a starlet attending the Met Gala, and she hires a team of women to help her do it, because who better to go unnoticed than women serving and cleaning up after a room full of elites?
All in all, I have to say the movie was entertaining. I did feel the beginning dragged a bit, but it is a problem with the caper flick genre as a whole, especially ones that have to introduce a host of characters. However, I’m probably not the person to review this movie as an instalment in the franchise, since I only watched the original Ocean’s 11 back in 2004 and didn’t find it compelling enough to warrant following the same plot twice more. I watched simply as a movie-goer, and one who ought to appreciate any movie franchise hijacked from previously all-male casts to all female casts.
First, the strengths of this film lie in the characters. Debbie’s motivations are complex and revealed throughout the movie.
Of course, the first motive to be revealed is simply her talent. Plan and pull off an impossible heist. The excitement is part of the lure. But the secondary motivations make the movie far more interesting. She also wants to use this caper as a way of nailing her ex-boyfriend to the wall for putting her in prison. Consequentially, this causes conflict with Lou, both from the plan itself and an unspoken personal relationship that is palpably present between Debbie and Lou.
The third, and potentially most interesting… Danny Ocean is revealed to be dead within the first act of the movie, and it appears that he may have died while she was in prison. Debbie’s feelings toward Danny are vaguely articulated at parts of the movie, she appears cold-faced and glib when he’s brought up often, but by the end, it feels like she may have done this in part FOR Danny, in his memory. As she says by his tomb at the end, “You would’ve loved it.”
Whether Danny is really dead or not is left up to question, possibly in case George Clooney decides later that he’d like to come do Ocean’s 9 with Bullock, but it’s an interesting layer into Debbie’s character.
Cate Blanchett’s character is written less textually complex, but her rock-vibe, motorcycle riding character is breathed to life by Blanchett. Her motivations are fairly simple: She needs to stretch her intellectual muscles, and her relationship with Debbie will persuade her to do anything. She objects, several times, that she won’t necessarily go along with what Debbie is asking… but she always does.
Helen Boneham Carter’s character Rose was a step back from the pale-faced villains I’ve come to know her for. Her softness in comparison to her compatriots is a nice change. She is, however, more of a functional character than one I got emotionally or critically attached to.
Lastly, Anne Hathaway stole the show as an over the top but believable movie star, Daphne Kluger who the women use to get the famed Toussaint necklace out of the Cartier vault and onto her pretty neck for the evening so they can steal it. She’s funny, in a way that is somewhat true to anyone wrapped up in herself and in Hollywood, but she’s also viscerally real in parts, when she’s fretting over how she looks because of clear self-image problems which are probably caused by the industry. I won’t say more about her arc, just to leave that as a surprise.
Another thing that I appreciated in this movie is that some of their “experts” are not specifically criminals, but incredibly useful anyway. They have their hacker, their fence, their pickpocket, but there’s more than that. Rose is a designer. Amita (Mindy Kaling) works as a jeweler with her family. However, their skills are brought into the mix and put to use cleverly by their mastermind Debbie. I think it brings flavor into the mix of the usual caper, to have people whose skills may not be immediately considered edgy and part of that Heist Glamor.
I would talk about the twists, but I’m going to leave the surprises to you, because I was delighted by them. Some of the usual, “Is this going to work?” tension, along with threads I’d thought they would drop from the narrative but then picked up in an interesting way.
What weakens the film for me is not the expected structure of a heist movie, but the lack of risk. Unquestionably, the white characters take the heavy in the main plot, focusing mainly on Debbie, Lou, Rose, and Daphne. Following, all of the rest of the women, Nine Ball (Rhianna), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), and Amita (Mindy Kaling), all get roughly the same amount of rounding out. Which leaves Constance (Awkwafina), the only Asian woman, and their pickpocket, with no character development whatsoever. This is a pity because Constance is incredibly entertaining as a character, ESPECIALLY when playing off of Nine Ball. It isn’t even that Debbie and Lou can’t carry the main plot, or that watching Anne Hathaway play a self-involved actress isn’t awesome… It’s kind of that they could’ve placed a bet on one of the women of color that they selected for the film to be a main lead alongside them.
I left the film thinking any sequel really needs to follow Nine Ball and her family. She and her little sister are both tech geniuses, with no explanation, no background. That shit needs to be explored, man. I realize that this movie used Rhianna’s character more or comedic effect, and she does well, but she could’ve been given more.
Moreover, having read the speculation regarding Debra Ocean and her longtime friend (and partner in crime), Lou, I was expecting the online reaction to their relationship to be more fandom interpretation than text, but it was skirting the edge of obviousness. My 70-year-old father said in the car ride home that he’d thought for a minute it would be reveal that they were really an item. The line, especially, “Lou and I were going through a rough patch” as Deb explains how she got together with the douche who got her sent to prison, rings of old lovers. That the film lets this die and fails to pick up on their relationship in the end, well… It’s cowardly.
No one wants hints of queerbaiting. If you would have two exes/friends planning a heist together, man and woman, and have them come back together by the end of the film, then between a bisexual woman (Debbie) and a lesbian woman (Lou), you ought to do the same. Risk it, or don’t tease it.
This may sound like I’m just picking on diversity, and in a way I am, but the twists and turns of the movie were sufficient… Once the film picked up pace, following the parts of the heist was exciting and satisfying. It’s a fun movie! They simply could’ve pushed harder. Yes, it’s a good movie. I’m glad I got to see it. But I don’t think they blew it out of the water the way the new Ghostbusters did.
But then again, Ghostbusters never got a fair shot. People pissed all over it for all the chances it took, and it was genuinely funny, had a solid plot, and made strong references and homages. If that’s how people are going to take an amazing movie, why not be average? The reviews are already less than stellar for Ocean’s 8 because they believe the plot is formulaic… and I have to say that I wasn’t that blown away by Ocean’s 11 a decade ago, so I’m willing to overlook that part and just enjoy the damn caper, Debbie and Lou’s chemistry, and Constance eating popcorn while watching the other characters have drama.
No, seriously, I’m counting on you gif wizards to get me Constance’s popcorn.gif.
Review by Midnight Voss
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