Film Review: “Ocean’s 8” Washes Away Series Fatigue with New Wave of Talent

Film poster: “Ocean’s 8”

Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross, 2018) 3 out of 4 stars.

I love a good heist movie, even though I’d never commit the acts portrayed, myself. In Ocean’s 8, a companion (of sorts) to the previous three “Ocean’s” films – Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen – Sandra Bullock gathers a crack team of crooked female collaborators to prove that women are just as fun to watch being bad as are men. And though it may may break no new genre ground – even while laying a solid new gender foundation – and has a few plot holes big enough to drive a getaway truck through, the film is so raucously entertaining and joyously amoral that we don’t much care about its occasionally pedestrian faults. It’s great fun, with a solid cast that holds our attention from start to finish.

Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett in OCEAN’S 8 ©Warner Bros.

Bullock – in her first role since the 2015 Our Brand Is Crisis – plays Debbie Ocean, sister to Danny, the heretofore lead criminal of the series (absent here). Like brother, like sister: when we first meet her she is getting released from prison after serving a five-year sentence for a caper that went south. Walking out the jailhouse doors, Debbie wastes no time conning her way into luxury clothes and accessories and a posh suite at a top hotel. From there, she swoops back into civilian life, gathering together partners old and new to put into action the plan she devised while serving time. If she can exact revenge on the old lover whose testimony sent her away, all the better.

Debbie’s scheme involves stealing $150 million in diamonds from the annual Met Gala by convincing a down-on-her-luck clothes designer to insist that the luxury jeweler Cartier release a heavily guarded historic necklace to adorn the neck of the gala’s hostess. Not so easy, not so fast. Like all good organizers, Debbie seeks various specialists, each with a unique set of skills that, together, make this crazy stratagem possible. They include rapper Awkwafina, Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok), Helena Bonham Carter (Suffragette), Mindy Kaling (star of the series The Mindy Project), Sarah Paulson (Blue Jay) and singer Rihanna. Anne Hathaway (Colossal) gives a hilarious turn as the ostensibly clueless hostess, brilliantly spoofing her celebrity persona. Individually, they all impress; collectively, they dazzle. In a delightful touch, the half-German Bullock is even allowed to show off her maternal tongue. Everyone is in fine fettle, and we, the audience, are the lucky beneficiaries of their talent.

Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina in OCEAN’S 8 ©Warner Bros.

True, it is all in service of a celebration of crime, but that is the thrill we derive from such shenanigans. It’s a guilty pleasure to root for those who take pleasure in being guilty. Since director Gary Ross (Free State of Jones) moves each scene along at a jaunty pace, and the screenwriters take pains to make the antihero protagonists sympathetic (and funny), we rarely pause to consider exactly what, and whom, we applaud. Plus, the victims of said (nonviolent) crime are made so fatuous – by clear design – that it’s hard to lament their fate. Though often silly, Ocean’s 8 is a satisfying cinematic sleight of hand, injecting new life into an old series. I look forward to Ocean’s 9.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. He is the lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a regular film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; an occasional writer for the magazine bmoreart.com; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, starting in January, 2018, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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