Updated: Jul 8, 2019
By Derek May
YIN: Ocean's 8
The Ocean’s franchise is really based on three major pillars: the ensemble, the heist, and the fun. They certainly hit another homerun with the ensemble, gathering a collection of acting heavyweights along with a few inspired up-and-comers. And the movie effectively captures the fun and playfulness expected from the series. If there’s one flaw to nitpick, it’s in the heist. But I’ll go ahead and admit that it certainly doesn’t break the film, which stands as a worthy entry to the saga—certainly above the relative stinker that was Ocean’s 12.
This go round, George Clooney’s Danny Ocean is, figuratively, out of the picture, though his presence looms large. Debbie Ocean, played by the uber-talented and ever-watchable Sandra Bullock, follows directly in her brother Danny’s footsteps, having conned her way out of prison, into a fine hotel, and into gathering a rogues gallery of cohorts for a heist she’s been planning every day of her recent 5-year sentence.
The formula is vintage Ocean’s, arguably almost too much so. The many parallels are likely meant as homages and to ground the audience into accepting the new slate of characters in this established universe. But it also tends to cause the film to veer just shy of formulaic. Yet, if you’re a fan of these films, then you’re more likely to take this as a positive rather than a negative, and the endearing troupe of performers certainly helps lessen the cries of derivativeness.
Bullock is, of course, the anchor. She exudes her usual charm, disarming those around her while keeping her façade cool and smooth as ice. The job is her baby, and she directs her team with intelligence, efficiency, and a commanding presence. Cate Blanchett’s Lou takes on the role of Debbie’s best friend, right-hand, and confidant. She sports a sharp, modern style, is close enough to Debbie to finish her sentences, and has the connections to track down the key elements of the team. She even confronts Debbie when she discovers that this con might have an ulterior, revenge-driven motive. If this all sounds familiar, it might be because it’s the exact same relationship that Danny had with Rusty (Brad Pitt) in the previous films. One key difference here though is that Lou isn’t given as many problems to solve, or as many “roles” to play. Lou gets at least one moment to pretend her way into the job, but it’s cut short (perhaps for time), with the juicier and more vital infiltration being done by Sarah Paulson’s Tammy, their fence. And while Paulson’s soccer-mom slash stolen goods middle-woman is played with an effective balance of befuddlement and confidence, I can’t help but feel that a fence might be the least qualified person to run a long, deep-cover con. While it certainly gives her character something to do while waiting to move the merchandise, it seems like a more fitting job for Lou and perhaps a missed opportunity to give Blanchett more screentime (when you’ve got a Cate Blanchett in your film, why not use her to the utmost?!).
It’s especially glaring given that things, for the most part, run so smoothly Lou isn’t given the chance to put out any fires; one of Rusty’s specialties. This actually leads into my issues with the heist. It’s certainly elaborate, with plenty of twists . . . but everything is just part of the plan. What’s missing here that was so endearing in the previous movies are significant obstacles to overcome. We do get one gigantic curveball that soars in just before go-time, but it’s resolved (and not by Lou) almost as quickly as it appears. After that, there are several wrenches that seem to find their way in, only to have Debbie well-prepared for those as well.
It may be legitimately argued that all of that shows just how perfectly Debbie was able to plan her job, and serves as a testament to her skills. I won’t disagree with that suffice to say that in movie-making terms, the lack of obstacles also creates a lack of tension, and leads us to simply watch the characters execute a plan rather than be concerned for whether they will. It also robs the character(s) of the chance to really show the ability to deal with the unforeseen in ingenious and unexpected ways.
All that being sa