Film Review: Ocean's 8

Lightly entertaining caper movie brings a welcome female POV to the “Ocean’s” formula.
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By all accounts, Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 reboot of Ocean’s 11 was a marked improvement on the original that was essentially a moonlighting gig for the legendary Las Vegas “Rat Pack” of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. No doubt that 1960 romp would have been elevated if honorary Rat Packer Shirley MacLaine had been part of the fun and the charismatic Angie Dickinson had been given a few more scenes.

As if to make up for that oversight, the movie gender-switching trend continues with Ocean’s 8, a female-driven spinoff of the three previous George Clooney-Brad Pitt capers. This time, it’s Debbie Ocean, sister of Clooney’s Danny, who masterminds the heist, and Sandra Bullock fills her black ankle boots very well indeed. Written by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch and directed by Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games), it’s an undemanding and credibility-defying summer confection that gets an extra charge from watching ultra-competent and confident women behaving badly.

Ocean’s 8 also benefits from a change of scenery: eternally photogenic New York City and the starry glamour of the annual Met Gala, the bustling scene of the scam that newly released Debbie has been plotting for five years inside her prison cell. The target: the Toussaint, a fabled Cartier necklace festooned with diamonds worth $150 million. Debbie cons the Gala’s chair, self-absorbed movie star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), into believing that financially strapped, out-of-fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) is a hot name once again—and Rose will demand nothing less than the Toussaint when she dresses Daphne for the ball. Completing the team: Debbie’s former partner Lou (Cate Blanchett), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), fence-turned-housewife Tammy (Sarah Paulson), pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina) and hacker Nine Ball (music superstar Rihanna).

Debbie is motivated by more than a big score, however. She also wants big revenge on her scoundrel ex-lover Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), an art dealer who let her take the rap for the caper that put her in prison. Becker’s comeuppance is built into the plan, but Ross and Milch’s screenplay adds several more twists that reveal Debbie’s true audaciousness and an unexpected ally.

Bullock plays a more hardened character than usual, but Debbie’s vulnerability (and the actress’ natural appeal) still peers through. Blanchett, with her long, straight blonde hair and black and animal-print ensembles, is the definition of cool style, but a star of her caliber should have been given more to do. Kaling and Paulson are also underused, but Rihanna (a fashion icon in real life) and Awkwafina lend extra mischief and attitude to the octet. The standout of the cast is frequent social-media target Hathaway, good-naturedly sending up the public’s perception of her by playing a star who’s a little too fixated on her image. Studying herself in the mirror, hungry for compliments, condescending to her assistants, Daphne is a witty portrait of Hollywood egomania that should handily defuse any future Hathaway jibes.

A big production-value plus is the ample footage shot within the actual Metropolitan Museum of Art and the many bold-faced names (including, of course, Anna Wintour and Kim Kardashian) who appear in the movie’s version of the Gala. Like those “white telephone” movies of the Depression era, Ocean’s 8 is glossy escapist entertainment—especially for women and fashionistas—ideal for these troubled times.

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