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‘Ocean’s 8’ Is Old School Hollywood in the Best Way

Summer has officially begun. I’ve just seen one of the most breezy, joyful, and slick movies of the year, so far. Ocean’s 8 is a gas.

Ocean’s 8 is part of a long and storied Hollywood tradition, A-list celebrities get together and pull off a heist, sometimes in WWII, sometimes in Vegas, other times during a chilly winter in Detroit. Either way, it’s a bunch of big names committing some form of larceny, grand or petty, and looking fabulous while doing so.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is cut from the same cloth as her brother Danny (George Clooney). Sitting at her parole meeting, she gives a long and sincere speech about wanting to turn over a new leaf. Of course, she gets paroled, or else there would be no movie. Gathering her belongings, one of the guards recites part of her speech and laughs. Debbie’s parting words are assuring the guard that their card game won’t be affected.

Sandra Bullock has built a career on playing “America’s Sweetheart” type characters, with varying success. Recently we’ve been learning she has dramatic chops in addition to her likable presence and comedic timing. With Debbie, Bullock is allowed to play a somewhat new character for her, the cool and collected mastermind. It’s a role she relishes, as evident by the constant smirk that seems to rest on her face.

The Oceans are part of a Hollywood myth, a family of grifters, con men, and thieves. “Everyone but my Aunt Ida,” Debbie confides to an Insurance Inspector John Frazier (James Corden). Why Debbie was in prison and what she’s going to do now that she’s out is the heart of Ocean’s 8.

Once out, Debbie races to meet an old colleague and partner Lou (Cate Blanchett). Blanchett’s Lou seems to have the look of a butch-femme Deborah Harry and crushes it as per usual. Lou runs a club watering down vodka and pulling various small scams. She is a sort of middle-class criminal. Upon seeing Debbie, the two pick up as if five years haven’t passed. Blanchett and Bullock with their dueling cheekbones speed off to Lou’s pad. An old, abandoned, run-down warehouse that Lou has retrofitted into a swanky loft.

Lou’s pad reminded me of Faye Dunaway’s apartment in Supergirl. A literal funhouse in an amusement park wherein she was massively in debt because of the exorbitant rent. Lou is smarter than Dunaway’s character because she owns the warehouse outright. As the two get settled in, Lou sees the special twinkle in Debbie’s eyes and immediately knows there’s fun to be had.

Gary Ross wastes precious little time getting to the actual heist. Once Debbie is out of prison, she visits Danny’s grave. While there she runs into Reuben (Elliott Gould) where he tells her how great the plan is. He also tells her it’s a bad idea. One of the subtle themes throughout the movie, Debbie is warned by others to be careful. But it’s the men who seem to think Debbie won’t be able to handle herself, despite a long, active life of crime.

As Debbie and Lou begin to assemble their crew, we learn Debbie’s plan: to steal the Toussaint diamond necklace off the neck of the famous actress and airhead Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) while she attends the Met Gala. But first, they have to get Daphne to wear it. Debbie and Lou rope famed fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), who’s in debt to her eyeballs to the IRS, to help lure Daphne into wearing the necklace. Daphne is what Lou and Debbie refer to as “the mule.”

The rest of the crew is assembled in short order. The necklace will need to be cut so they need Amita (Mindy Kaling), who works with her mother as a jeweler. Of course, the Met has state of the art security system so they’ll need a hacker, Nine Ball (Rihanna). Stealing a hundred fifty million dollar necklace will require quick and steady hands. Luckily Lou knows of a local pickpocket, Constance (Awkwafina).

Everyone is allowed a scene or two to stretch their comedic chops. Rihanna is given the least to do but what she is given is still choice. The stand out is Awkwafina as Constance—the brash, streetwise pickpocket who can’t help but lift watches. She and Bullock share a scene in which she effortlessly goes from begging for a Metro pass to hitting on Debbie’s dead brother. A kind of camaraderie permeates the film as these ladies start to develop something akin to friendship with each other. At one point, one of them asks a relative latecomer to the crew why she’s doing this. Her response is a simple shrug, “Honestly, I don’t have any female friends.”

Hathaway’s ditzy and vain Daphne Kluger is the perfect mixture of broad and nuanced. She’s parodying the public’s perception of her, at the same time indulging in the joys of exaggerated comedy. Her Diana Kluger is delightfully vapid in a way that never approaches disbelief. Hathaway is so much fun that it’s only icing on the cake when it’s revealed that still, waters may, in fact, run deep.

Ross realizes the magnitude of the talent in his cast. This isn’t Shakespeare but it is a delicate balance nonetheless. Watching Ocean’s 8 we get to see our favorite actress do something we rarely get to see, play around. Bonham-Carter’s Rose in someone else’s hands might be well played. But it would lack the off-kilter wide-eyed outlandishness she brings to every role.

Blanchett stalks around the frames exuding that strange alchemical quality she has that can only be described as Cate Blanchett. In Thor: Ragnarok she camped it up to a thousand as she and Jeff Goldblum had a vamp off throughout the movie. Blanchett brings an air of mystery to Lou. While she’s more outgoing than Debbie, she tends to be coyer.

Eventually, Ocean’s 8 gets around to how Debbie ended up in prison. She fell in love with another con man, a debonair tool Claude (Richard Armitage). Lou eventually realizes what the job really is, payback, and warns Debbie about “running a job inside of a job.” Interesting she would call it a “job” considering Lou and Debbie seem incapable of doing anything but planning and scheming.

Ross co-wrote the script with Olivia Milch. The script is peppered with little moments of sharp commentary about womanhood. Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a woman whose skills of getting anything and everything the crew needs borders on wizardry. She shows Debbie pictures of men she has in mind for a small but integral part of the job. Debbie shoots them down. “Is it because they’re hims?” Debbie nods. “Hims will get noticed. Hers won’t.” A sly dig at the fact that while women are constantly objectified they are also sometimes considered, especially in movies such as these, merely part of the scenery.

The script allows for the exact thing we go to movies like Ocean’s 8 for: banter. Lou and Debbie’s riffs expose decades-long intimate knowledge. The two have a way of looking at each other and interacting as if there might have been, at one time, something more than friendship between the two.

Ocean’s 8 has a wonderful dearth of men in its cast. Gould’s Reuben pops in for a scene but then pops out again. Corden’s Frazier is a minor character who only pops up for the third act. The only real man of consequence is Armitage’s Claude, but Ocean’s 8 never really gives Claude all that much thought. After all, he didn’t give Debbie any thought at all, so why should the movie?

Ross, and his cameraman, Eigil Bryld happily leave the male gaze behind. Yes, there are montages of women in fancy gowns, and our characters each get a splendid dress designed just for them. But we would get these shots in other Ocean’s movies as well, only with men in suits. The dresses are one of the many toys the women are allowed to play with.

Unlike, this year’s earlier Lara Croft, the absence of the male gaze doesn’t mean a lack of an eye for shot composition. Bryld seems bemused and delighted by the Met’s architecture. He uses doorways and hallways to create frames within the frame. Bryld uses architectural geometry to adorn the edges of the frames and give us scenes of squares and triangles.

Ocean’s 8 is a glamorous old school Hollywood movie. Ross wastes little time with Ocean’s 8. We are spared romantic couplings or unnecessary drama. Ross never loses focus; this is a heist movie and nothing more. None of the ladies end the movie with a man or any kind of romantic entanglement, a rarity in of itself. Ross and Milch give us women who want the money, love the thrill of the job, and view men as either momentary pleasures or as tools to be used to their end.

Ross even allows the older generation to come and play. No less than Marlo Thomas, Dana Ivey, Elizabeth Ashley, and Mary Louise Wilson get brief cameos as well. Actress tend to be unfairly tossed aside after a certain age. Their screen time barely amounts to two full minutes combined but what they do in that time shows us that talent does not fade with age.

Refreshingly, Ocean’s 8, is the rare movie whose length is as long or short as it needs to be. Ocean’s 8 is easily some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year. Frothy and delicious, it hums along with a finger-snapping briskness. Finally, a movie I wouldn’t mind if they made a sequel to. Which probably means they won’t. I hope I’m wrong.


Image Courtesy of Warner Bros

Jeremiah
Written By

Jeremiah lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between living in a movie theatre and writing mysteries. There might also be some ghostbusting being performed in his spare time.

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