A film review by Craig J. Koban June 20, 2018

OCEAN'S 8 jjj

2018, PG-13, 110 mins.


Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean  /  Cate Blanchett as Lou  /  Anne Hathaway as Daphne Kluger  /  Helena Bonham-Carter as Rose  /  Rihanna as Nine Ball  /  Sarah Paulson as Tammy  /  Mindy Kaling as Amita  /  Awkwafina as Constance  /  Dakota Fanning as Penelope Stern  /  James Corden as John Frazier

Directed by Gary Ross  /  Written by Ross and Olivia Milch



Somewhat confusingly, OCEAN'S 8 comes numerically before the previous OCEAN'S films - comprised of Steven Soderbergh's 2001 remake of the 1960s Rat Pack fuelled heist flick, followed by two increasingly inferior sequels in 2004's OCEAN'S TWELVE and 2007's OCEAN'S THIRTEEN.  This may throw casually filmgoers for a loop, because in actuality this is a sequel to Soderbergh's George Clooney quarterbacked series and is released 11 years to the day that the last entry hit cinemas.  OCEAN'S 8 is also an ostensibly female driven entry in this mostly sausage fest of a franchise, which is initially a refreshing idea, albeit if only done right.   

The best compliment I'll give OCEAN'S 8 is that - like the prequel films that inspired it - it boasts a stellar, eclectic, and endlessly likeable cast that have ample easygoing chemistry.  That, and unlike the woefully wrongheaded girl powered GHOSTBUSTERS film of a few years back, OCEAN'S 8 isn't a lame and lazy reboot of its series, nor is it trying to be a misguided remake.  Instead, it's set in the world of the old OCEAN'S films and respects their legacy.  Best of all, it contains a central crime caper plot that's modestly enthralling, not to mention that it looks, at times, as lush and slick as any of the previous Soderbergh efforts.  OCEAN'S 8 is hardly the sequel I was clamoring for (especially after the last two mostly unnecessary sequels), but what helps make it stand proudly on its own two feet is that it captures the breezy style of the original 2001 film and is arguably just as slick, charming, and understatedly funny.   



Danny Ocean, rather rightfully, never makes an appearance here (which, I think, would have been distracting).  Instead, he remains an influential figure on the outside that casts a rather large shadow on his sister, Debbie (Sandra Bullock, Clooney's GRAVITY co-star), who we learn in the opening sections of the film has just spent five years, eight months, and twelve days in prison for planning a heist.  During her parole hearing she admits to being on the bad end of a rotten relationship that got her into her mess, and subsequently promises to stay out of trouble if let go.  Obviously, because she's an Ocean, abandoning the criminal life is next to impossible for Debbie, and within her first few hours of freedom she's seen engaging in multiple petty thefts that culminate in her illegally getting a suite in a posh New York hotel.   

Debbie has bigger fish to fry, though, seeing as she hooks back up with her old partner in Lou (Cate Blanchett), and reveals to her an elaborate and ambitious plan to steal a $150 million diamond necklace at the heavily guarded and secure Met Gala.  To make matters ever more complicated, they plan on stealing the necklace not from a vault, but rather from the very neckline of famous actress Daphne Kluger (Ann Hathaway), who will be wearing it during the event.  Realizing the sheer limitless complexity of such a task, Debbie and Lou decide to recruit a team to pull it all off, including fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), diamond expert Amita (Mindy Kaling), computer hacker "Nine Ball" (Rihanna), expert pick pocket Constance (Awkwafina), and former conwoman turned housewife Tammy (Sarah Paulson).  Considering that the Met Gala is one of the most exclusive parties around and is riddled with as much security as a modern prison, Debbie and her crew most certainly have their work cut out for them.  The mission also becomes deeply personal when it's revealed that Debbie is embarking on it as a means of avenging the man that wronged her years ago (Richard Armitage), who was primarily responsible for sending her away. 

Soderbergh does not return to directorial duties this go around (he now serves as producer) and pinch hitting for him is Gary Ross (SEABISCUIT, PLEASANTVILLE, and THE HUNGER GAMES), and throughout OCEAN'S 8 there's a clear cut willingness on his part to keep the entire proceedings jubilantly afloat and energized by basically trying to mimic the past established Soderbergh aesthetic playbook that typified his OCEAN'S trilogy.  Now, there's something to be said about hiring a new director in an established series to bring some fresh new stylistic life to it, but Ross seems determined to make OCEAN'S 8 look and feel consistent with the previous OCEAN'S films, which works in the film's favor.  OCEAN;S 8 also looks as sumptuously gorgeous as the previous installments, with cinematographer Eigil Bryld giving the film an invitingly glossy sheen that not only compliments the high pedigree of actresses on display and shows them at their best, but it also makes this sequel feel just as lush and rich as what came before. 

Even though I was hard on the last two OCEAN'S entries, I nevertheless thought they were watchable on a level of sheer star power alone.  OCEAN'S 8 proudly continues this legacy by gathering together its actresses - and a few choice surprise cameos by low level members of Danny Ocean's crew for good measure - and allow for them to really sink their teeth into their respective idiosyncratic parts with a real enthusiastic relish that's quite infectious.  In particular, Bullock feels authentic as Danny Ocean's sibling, and she display's her brother's smooth and low key confidence and Clooney's unique abilities to utterly own a role with minimal performance fuss.  She's paired exceptionally well with Blanchett, who brings an ample amount of free-wheeling sass to her spirited role.  Stealing the movie, though, is Hathaway's unhealthily egomaniacal and materialistic Hollywood elitist that seems like a sly wink-wink parody of the types of deeply self-centered, attention seeking actresses that we see grace every facet of social media on a daily basis.  Hathaway is clearly enjoying chewing scenery here as her pathetically uptight socialite and is OCEAN'S 8 secret performance weapon.   

And this film's central heist is pretty cool in its own way and would make Danny Ocean blush with envy, and Ross and his screenwriters seem to be enjoying navigating through the sheer head spinning implausibility of Debbie's plan.  The plot keeps things moving gingerly alone and takes a few unexpected detours and twists as well in the late stages, although I would say that OCEAN'S 8 loses narrative steam in the third act and seems to be engaging in pure coast mode.  There's also an easy claim to be made that, when all is said and done, this film is just spinning its genre tires as leisurely as what came before and wallows in predictable clichés and formulas (we get team recruitment and building scenes, heist planning montages, last minute and unforeseen heist obstacles...yadda yadda).  At the end of day, OCEAN'S 8 - in you excuse the gender swapping of characters - is just as routine as most other male dominated heist films out there. 

Yet, there's no denying the modest pleasures to be had in seeing this celebration of its actresses and the unforced chemistry they all have here in abundance, and seeing these shifty individuals with their own unique skill sets come together for the proverbial big con and payday is unpretentious fun.  OCEAN'S 8 most certainly doesn't have the dry wit, visual panache, and unpredictable caginess of Soderbergh's first film, but it successfully reignites the franchise out of long standing dormancy. I went into OCEAN'S 8 not expecting much, but emerged from it pleasantly surprised.  As far as a sequel to sequels to remakes go, this is one of the better and more surprisingly enjoyable ones.  Sarcasm aside and considering this male dominated genre, it's not altogether a bad thing when we get a heist film populated by a wonderful ensemble of actresses that are clearly having a ball playing off of one another that's released at the height of the summer film season when these types of films are not a dime a dozen. 

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