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Movie Review: "Ocean's 8" Is A Fun Feminist Caper

Starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna and Helena Bonham-Carter
Screenplay by Gary Ross & Olivia Milch
Directed by Gary Ross

Reviewed by Patrick & Paul Gibbs

 Out of Four

Let's get the bad out of the way first: Yes, Kim Kardashian West does make an appearance in this film. She has no lines, and is just seen walking across the red carpet into the Met, but it's still a cringe inducing sight for anyone with a weak stomach.

Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven remake is a pop culture classic that redefined cool in the early 2000's and solidified George Clooney's place as a superstar. Soderbergh and Clooney went on to collaborate on making other more artistically ambitious projects (Solaris and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, etc.) and when asked what would happen if these projects failed, Clooney responded with "Ocean's Twelve."

Of course that's exactly what happened, and we got one half hearted, self indulgent (if sometimes amusing) mess that tried to mix self parody and melodrama with Ocean's Twelve, and one solidly fun (if uninspired) semi-apology for that film with Ocean's Thirteen. Clooney and Soderbergh were done at that point, and were off to make others spectacular hits and misses. But a marketable franchise is a marketable franchise, and a spin off was inevitable.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), Danny's sister, is ready to follow in her brother's footsteps and puts together a team
of grifters, pickpockets, hackers and con artists that would make him very proud.
(Images Courtesy Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures)

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is released from prison after doing five years. Crime runs in her family, with her father and her brother Danny having both served time.  Despite what she tells the parole board, Debbie is a lot like her brother, and like him she spent her time in the joint plotting.  And, like Danny, the second she gets out, she enlists the aid of her friend and blondest "business partner"(Cate Blanchett, whose name is Lou instead of Rusty) to help her pull off the biggest heist of their respective careers: stealing $150 million dollar necklace, which they will do by manipulating internationally famous supermodel Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) into insisting on wearing the necklace to the Met Gala.

Diamonds are a girl's best friend.
(Images Courtesy Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures)

It goes without saying that Debbie has to assemble a team: Rose Weil (Helena Bonham-Carter), a once sought after fashion designer in need of a comeback; Nine Ball (Rhianna), a technical genius; Amita (Mindy Kaling) a jewellery maker; Tammy (Sarah Paulson) a fence who has settled down to raise a family but is still addicted to selling stolen goods, and Constance (Awkwafina), a pick pocket. Together they plot an intricate scheme that thankfully is never referred to as "Ballsy", because if you're not tired of the requisite "ironic" reference about whether female characters in movies "have the balls" to do whatever, you're a lot more patient and forgiving than we are (kudos to the movie for never doing this, but 10 points from Gryffindor for stooping to attempting to be funny by using the P-word. Writers, these actresses deserve better than that, and so does your audiences.)

To say that this movie is nothing new is a bit of an understatement: it follows the Ocean's playbook  as closely as possible, to the point that Blanchett is really not given a character, she's just Brad Pitt as a woman (and being a woman in Hollywood, she doesn't get to eat in every scene the way he did, but then again, she probably doesn't have the same perpetual case of the munchies that Pitt does.) But while the angle of making this an all female crew doesn't change the fact that we've seen this before, it does make it entertaining and gives it just enough of an angle to feel fresher than it has any right to.

Debbie (Sandra Bullock) and Lou (Cate Blanchett) get a bite to eat as they discuss plans.
(Images Courtesy Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures)

Most of this can be attributed to the cast, and Bullock was truly the only choice to pull this off. Danny's presence hangs over the entire film, and as such we needed someone who felt like she had a sister-brother relationship with Clooney, and between their work together on Gravity and Our Brand is Crisis (Clooney the producer chose Bullock to replace him as the lead in the latter when his schedule would not allow him to star), Bullock the actress doesn't have to work very hard to create an emotional connection and mutual admiration strong enough to make us feel it. Blanchett may not have a strong character, but always adds a strong presence, and Anne Hathaway is  divine as Daphne, clearly having a great time poking a bit of fun at herself. Paulson, one of Hollywood's best underused actresses, could have been given a little more screen time, but she makes the most of what she has, and Kaling is always a treat. Awkwafina and Rhianna add a sense of street cred to the group, and while our mind isn't made up on how much skill Rhianna possesses as an actress, she's competent when trusted with a better script than Battleship or Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (which could apply to any commercial or music video she's appeared in) and she elegantly illustrates the basic premise that "Daaaaamn, she fine" more than enough times throughout the movie to be a very welcome addition. Bonham-Carter, who has become something of a wild card these days, is quite charming, and the chemistry between her, Bullock, Blanchett and Hathway is a big part of why the movie works. Richard Armitage is bland but effective as a mysterious man from Debbie's past, and James Corden steals a few scenes as an insurance fraud investigator.

Director Gary Ross, who gave us Pleasantville (a  Steven Soderbergh production,) Seabiscuit and The Hunger Games, seems to decide about 15 minutes into the film that his best bet here is just to imitate the original director's style (the two are such good friends that Soderbergh did the second unit work on Hunger Games), and he does it pretty well, particularly when we get close to the Gala, at which point the movie kicks into high gear. While it never provides the consistent number of laughs that Soderbergh's first entry did, the pacing makes up for it. Ross deserves props for avoiding the common Hollywood temptation of thinking the female version of something has to be more sexualized than the male version: while he definitely takes advantage of showcasing the beauty of the actresses, he only does so in exactly the same way that Soderbergh showcased how dashing Clooney and Pitt looked in suits. The eye candy factor  has always been part of the series, and Ross's approach should work for just about everyone.

Ocean's 8 is not going to attain the classic status that Eleven did, but it's a very pleasant diversion that we could see ourselves viewing more than once in its initial run.

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