OnScreen Review: "Ocean's 8"

Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

When I first heard that they were making Ocean’s 8, I was skeptical. I was unimpressed with the all-female Ghostbusters movie, despite being a fan of the cast. I am not much of a fan of Hollywood’s apparent decision to make every franchise some kind of shared cinematic universe like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It works for Marvel, it quickly loses its appeal much beyond that. And while every film should be taken on its own merits, I’m not a fan of the gender-swap trend that seems to be happening in Hollywood; I am a fan of a lot of films featuring great female actresses, and I want more movie roles for them overall, but I also want more original roles for them to play (and, really, I’ve been beating the drum for more original content in Hollywood in general for years). So I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this spinoff from the Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney trilogy of films of the last decade.

Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett are the two main leads of this female-driven ensemble. Bullock is Debbie Ocean, the estranged sister of Clooney’s Danny Ocean, who has just gotten paroled after being in prison for five years. During that time, she has had time to think, and when she gets out she makes a bee line for her old partner in crime, Blanchett’s Lou, the Pitt to her Clooney. She has a plan to steal some highly priced jewelry during the Met Gala off of the neck of celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway).

Most of the first third of the film is a recreation in a lot of ways of Ocean’s Eleven where Clooney and Pitt recruit their team. Part of the fun of a heist film is the putting together of the crew. They enlist the various talents of characters played by Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Awkwafina, and Helena Bonham Carter. Here, the script does a not-so-subtle but highly efficient and effective job of explaining why it is an all-female crew, because “a him gets noticed, a her gets ignored, and for once we want to be ignored.”

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The cast is effortlessly cool and comfortable and like their male counterparts in the Soderbergh clearly having a fun time. I enjoyed practically everyone, but especially Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter. Hathaway gets to let loose as the spoiled and pampered celeb that is easy to dislike, though she is so charming in the role you never completely hate her. Like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter has spent so much time playing eccentric/crazy characters that it was shocking to see her playing a relatively normal character. It was nice to be reminded that she is more than Bellatrix Lestrange or the Red Queen and that she is really talented. In fact, she arguably had a bigger role than Cate Blanchett in the film, even though Blanchett gets higher billing. There are no weak spots in this fine crew of women.

The weak spots of the film lie mainly in the script, which has a lot of aspects that you probably shouldn’t think too hard about for too long if you want to keep enjoying the film. The inevitable monkey wrench that gets thrown into the plans regarding the necklace they are attempting to steal is resolved very quickly and rather absurdly and conveniently so. The incompetence and arrogance of the security of the Met is almost insulting to our intelligence as an audience. But nothing is more egregious than anything you’d find in the other Ocean’s movies.

This film fits in surprisingly well with the previous trilogy too. I was incredibly skeptical of it being placed in this world and spun off onto its own, but by the end I thought they did an impressive job of sliding it right into that universe. Danny Ocean is supposedly dead, as Debbie visits his grave early on, though the movie gives plenty of reasons to suspect that he probably faked his own death. None of it felt forced or overdone in the references to Danny Ocean and his guys, two even make cameo appearances. And there are playful winks to the previous films throughout. More than anything, the film has the courage of its own convictions to be its own thing. Not to belabor the comparison, but that was something sorely lacking in Ghostbusters; it constantly felt like it needed to rely upon the original film rather than be its own thing. Also, director Gary Ross does a good job of making a film that looks and feels like the previous Ocean’s films, recreating some of the visual style of Soderbergh, who served as an executive producer on this film.

Ocean’s 8 could’ve been its own fun and cool heist film without having “Ocean” attached to it (after all, it’s not like heist films didn’t exist long before Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of a Sinatra film), but overall it worked for me. It’s a fun and while I would be hard pressed to say that it comes close to matching the 2001 Ocean’s Eleven in overall quality, I would rank it well ahead of Ocean’s Twelve and slightly ahead of Ocean’s Thirteen. I’m still on my soapbox for wanting more original content for actresses in Hollywood, but if we’re going to continue to get derivative titles from the studios for the foreseeable future, I can live with it if the quality is going to be as entertaining as this.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars