Movie Review: Elegant Ocean’s 8 a First-Rate Heist Flick
The plotting and execution of an impeccably staged jewelery heist at the annual Met Gala - a celebrity-studded fundraiser at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art - is the prime focus of Ocean’s 8, a belated but surprisingly on-point sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 series that at least equals - if not surpasses - its predecessors.
The heist should be impeccably precise: ringleader Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has had five long years to mull it over in jail after being set up by onetime romantic partner and expert cad Claude Becker (Richard Armitage).
Once released - on an amusing promise to go back to ‘the simple life,’ in the film’s opening scene - Debbie immediately calls upon longtime partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) to go over the plan she’s been mulling over in her head the past half-decade.
It involves the upcoming Met Gala, tabloid celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway, who’s a riot throughout the first half of the movie), and a diamond-studded Cartier necklace valued at $150 million that has been locked away in a vault for the past 50 years and won’t be seen in public without a security detail that includes ex-Mossad agents.
To pull it off, Debbie needs to pull together the titular Ocean’s 8 team that includes struggling celebrity fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), family jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), suburban fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson), street pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina) and hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna).
As with previous films in the Ocean’s series, the cast is so tightly-packed, and the narrative so tightly-focused on the heist at hand, that few of these actors have the chance to put in memorable work; Rihanna and Awkwafina fare best with characterizations that lean towards light comic relief, but I wish Kaling, Paulson, and especially Bonham Carter had just a few more scenes to better develop their characters.
But the plot-focused narrative is where Ocean’s 8 really shines: writer-director Gary Ross does a better job than Soderbergh at staging both the heist planning and its eventual execution; there are times when Ocean’s 8 approaches the minimalist, acutely-focused narratives of Melville heist pictures like Bob le Flambeur or Le Cercle Rouge.
And Bullock and Blanchett breathlessly carry the whole movie with gusto. These are two of Hollywood’s top stars at the very top of their game - no slumming, like some of the cast members in previous installments - and while their characters, too, don’t have a whole lot of backstory, they effortlessly say everything that needs to be said between the sparse lines.
Of course, Ocean’s 8 doesn’t quite live up to match Melville’s heist movie classics, and a light and frothy resolution - a drawn-out (though less obnoxious) version of the worst element of Ocean’s 11, that bubbly Las Vegas fountain finale - takes a little air out of the tense and exciting events that preceded it.
Ocean’s 8 shines so well during the no-nonsense planning and execution scenes that the twists that come during the finale come off as fun as the filmmakers intended. One especially didn’t sit right with me: Hathaway does such a good job of selling her character during the first half of the movie that where the film eventually takes her just doesn’t seem sensible.
I’d appreciate just an iota of realism in these films - these people are criminals, after all - and some kind of element of capture, double-cross, or the threat of injury or even death would go a long way towards selling the dangerous nature of what our protagonists are actually trying to pull off.
Nevertheless, Ocean’s 8 equals or even bests Soderbergh’s previous three movies - though beyond being light fun, my memory of them is hazy - and slides into the franchise in surprisingly adept fashion (a pair of the Ocean’s 11-12-13 castmates, Elliot Gould and Shaobo Qin, even show up in cameos).
Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, of course, is the sister of George Clooney’s character from the previous films. And while Ocean’s 8 opens with Danny deceased, the filmmakers handle his somewhat ambiguous fate in a graceful and less flippant manner than one might expect.