There’s a scene early on in Ocean’s 8 when Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is laying out her grand jewelry heist scheme and she rejects the idea of including any men as part of the team. And although I’m paraphrasing, her reason for this decision is something like, “For once, we’re going to make the fact that no one sees us work to our advantage.”
It’s a line that is equal parts genius and heartbreaking, and it might be the only instance where any of the eight women at the heart of this exhilarating, razor-sharp caper movie make any mention of those in the world who dare see them as anything less than equal to their male counterparts. The film not only graces us with a small army of great new characters, each with her own reason to turn (or return) to a life of crime, but it also maps out a whip-smart new heist, complete with surprise turns and an endless supply of cameos.
As we soon find out, Ocean isn’t just talking about men who don’t see women as fully formed people, but institutions like the fashion industry, Hollywood and the media, all of whom find it easier to divide women into already established categories like style icon, jilted wife/lover, diva, and a dozen other labels that the film doesn’t specifically mention. Still, its characters certainly understand that if their target is high profile, then the easiest way to hide someone in plain sight around them is to go in disguised as a waiter or part of the cleaning crew or any number of other invisible jobs whose expectation it is not to be noticed.
Again, Ocean’s 8 is not a message film in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t getting its point across slyly, while also slipping in nicely alongside the trio of Steven Soderbergh-directed works in the early 2000s.
Directed by Gary Ross (the writer of Big and Dave; writer/director of Pleasantville, Seabiscuit and The Hunger Games) and scripted by Ross and Olivia Milch, Ocean’s 8 begins with Debbie getting released from a long stint in prison after Claude, a former boyfriend (Richard Armitage), betrayed her to the police. She has revenge on her mind, for sure, but first she wants to run a heist that she’s been planning almost the entire time she’s been behind bars. She meets up with her former partner in crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett), to go over the basics, and the resulting payday (assuming it all works) is too good to say no. The plan is to steal one of the most expensive pieces of jewelry on the planet while it’s around the neck of one of the most famous actresses around, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway, doing a spot-on impression of, well, a version of herself).
The two quickly begin assembling the team, including struggling fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter); talented jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling); pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina); hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna); and Tammy (Sarah Paulson), who can get anything at a moment’s notice and is a consummate con artist with a seemingly unlimited number of contacts. There is certainly less squabbling and pettiness than in Danny Ocean’s crew (we are told Danny is dead now, a fact that most people don’t seem to believe), and the way in which these women are able to solve problems that crop up, improvise on the spot, and talk their way out of just about any potentially dangerous situation is a real treat to behold. The dialogue and performances crackle with such concentrated energy that the hair on your arms might stand up. Everyone gets a chance to stand out, be funny, and spotlight their respective skills as an essential member of the team.
The jewelry in question will be on Daphne’s neck at the most exclusive party of the year—New York City’s annual Met Gala, organized by Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour. If you saw the documentary The First Monday in May, then you know the event as well as the level of detail and security involved in putting it on. Setting the heist among the rich and famous gives the film a chance to include a bevy of famous faces for the crew to move amongst, to the point where you’re never quite sure where to be looking, which is essentially the point. Your eyes naturally follow the sparkly, billowing dress. Meanwhile, a crew member dressed as a member of the catering service sneaks by unnoticed.
Like many of the great con-artist films, the trick isn’t getting the prize; it’s keeping those from whom you have just stolen something unaware that anything is missing. Not to mention, there’s an aftermath to the theft, when an insurance agent (James Corden) grills all of the major players to find out how the magic trick was carried out. Bullock does a particularly fine job reminding us that it was a healthy combination of charm and intelligence that made us want to watch her in the first place. Debbie is confident in her plan, but she’s smart enough to roll with it when something goes off the rails. Blanchett rarely gets to play such a laid-back character (let alone one with her native Australian accent), and Lou is surprisingly funny in an overly cautious manner.
The nods to the other Ocean’s movies are kept to a minimum; Ross and the other filmmakers seem intent on making certain Ocean’s 8 stands on its own without leaning heavily on what has come before (I do enjoy how the title leaves open the possibility of filling in the blanks and making Ocean’s 9 and 10, should the mood strike anyone to do so). I may have a quibble here and there about how certain characters behave and the consistent way that Debbie seems to know exactly how and when everyone is going to behave, but the pure joy of seeing this bold and thrilling film work so consistently makes it easy to overlook these minor shortcomings. I can’t wait to see this one again to catch anything I may have overlooked the first time through; it’s that kind of ride.
The film opens in Chicago on Friday.
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