Saturday Film School | 'Ocean's 8' Plays it Safe and Sticks to Source Material

Familiar and a Bit Derivative, Ocean's 8 Still has Enough Style to Stay Afloat.

Warner Bros. Pictures 'Ocean's 8'

The real fun is watching the style and craft of the heist, the chemistry between the ensemble and how their convenient ingenuity awards them the privilege of indulging elegant, albeit organized criminality.

When it comes to heist movies, the Ocean's franchise—elevated by the ever-watchable George Clooney—is the most entertaining of offerings in a genre that naturally follows a strict formula: beautiful people, beautiful locations, and tons of delicious, slow-building tension followed by exposition regarding the heist's logistics and plot twists. Clooney as the well-dressed, stoic Danny Ocean never failed to hit all the right cinematic sweet spots; he somehow made an inconceivable character believable and, better yet, enviable. His pack of equally handsome and charismatic tricksters—Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle—had the type of chemistry and swagger reminiscent of NYC's Rat Pack.

In 2018, it's the women's turn to do some money stealing, but you'll find that Ocean's 8, although pleasant and warm, is derivative and unchallenging. In fact, Ocean fans will recognize the score-settling pot twist toward the end as Ocean's Eleven's romantic plot twist between Danny and Beatrice (Julia Roberts); the similarity of the two films is so blatant it feels like deja vu: Are we just supposed to accept a completely stolen subplot? Yep. Because Ocean's 8 isn't concerned with creating something new, which is a shame because a woman-led heist film shouldn't have to follow the same beats as George Clooney's gang of pickpockets and genius hackers, but it does, playing things safe up until the predictable finale, when, surprise (!), eight women get away with the country's biggest jewelry heist since…Doris Payne?

Again, if you've stuck with the franchise for long enough, you know the formula: The real fun is watching the style and craft of the heist, the chemistry between the ensemble and how their convenient ingenuity awards them the privilege of indulging elegant, albeit organized criminality. Apparently, stealing is good fun when it's made to look easy and even better with women in 8-inch stilettos.

The leader this time is Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), Danny's sister—looks like their shared con artistry is genetic—who cons her way out of jail after serving five years in confinement for a heist-gone-wrong her then-boyfriend put her up to. Her excuse: She fell for the wrong guy. She's released, 45 dollars in her pocket, looking to even the score. She rallies up an old partner, Lou (Cate Blanchett), and the two assemble a team of women to help steal a 150 million dollar necklace from the Met Gala set to be worn on the neck of diva actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). Their team of thieves is just as adept and clever as Ocean's men: Nine Ball (Rihanna), a stoner/hacker; Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), a desperate designer in massive debt; Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a bored mother who fences stolen goods; Constance (Awkwafina), a fast-talking pickpocket; Amita (Mindy Kaling), a diamond expert (who's hilariously berated by her traditional mother for being unwed). The women compliment one another and their onscreen presence seems organic, sexy, and fun in the same fashion Danny's crew captivated the screen.

In the third act, James Corden plays a jolly fraud inspector eager to recover the precious necklace. He's a weird fit for the role and his presence feels like the punchline of celebrity cameos—and there are plenty in this film (the Kardashians, Heidi Klum, and Vogue's very own Anna Wintour make an appearance). Ocean's 8 is familiar, yes, but it's well constructed, with every actress pulling her own weight and making her own share of the uber expensive necklace. The pleasure is in watching Bullock strut into Bloomingdale's and steal designer perfume and cosmetics with a straight face. It never fails to find delight in a franchise that makes something as bad as jewelry theft look so good you consider making your own team of criminal thieves. Ocean's 8, no matter its uninventive tone, excels in refurbishing what was once Hollywood's A-list male-dominated playground. If there are more to come, let's hope the women will get some more room to play.

POP⚡DUST Score: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.

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