Saturday, June 16, 2018

Ocean’s 8 / *** (PG-13)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Debbie Ocean: Sandra Bullock
Lou: Cate Blanchett
Daphne Kluger: Anne Hathaway
Rose Weil: Helena Bonham Carter
Tammy: Sarah Paulson
Amita: Mindy Kaling
Nine Ball: Rihanna
Constance: Awkwafina
Claude Becker: Richard Armitage
John Frazier: James Cordon

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Gary Ross. Written by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch. Based on characters created by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell. Running time: 110 min. Rated PG-13 (for language, drug use and some suggestive content).

I think there’s an expectation with a heist movie these days that it will be action-filled, have a bunch of twists and turns, and involve a plot that is so complicated it could require a couple of viewings to understand. The new female-centric heist flick Ocean’s 8 follows a more classic notion of the heist flicksomething more akin to Rififi, considered by many to be the greatest heist flick of all time. The formula involves a group of characters with specific skill sets, who each provide a vital aspect of the heist that they lay out in precise detail and then visually execute for the audience to appreciate how it all plays out. The outside elements are well-considered by the heist crew and the pleasure comes from watching these characters work together towards a goal while the rest of the cast remains oblivious as to how they are being played. Not every detail in the plan is revealed ahead of time, but the capable and charismatic author of the heist has any speed bumps well in hand. It’s not so much about whether they’ll pull it off, but an appreciation of well-written characters and the actors who are hired to depict them.

This fourth in the franchise of up-until-now male-centric Ocean’s movies, introduces an entire new cast of characters. There are a couple of characters who make cameo appearances from the original trilogy, but spoiler laws don’t allow me to reveal them here. Getting out of a 5-year prison sentence on parole is Debbie Oceansister of the George Clooney character Danny Ocean from Ocean’s 11-13. Sandra Bullock plays Debbie, and I can’t help but think that this sibling pairing means most all of us were handed genetic lemon cards. It is revealed that Danny has passed away recently, but Debbie and the audience are skeptical.

Five years has been just enough time for Debbie to work out every last detail of the perfect score; and despite her parole, she immediately goes to work getting a crew together, stopping first to draw in her right hand girl, Lou, played with adept casualness by Cate Blanchett. Their mark is an actress, Daphne Kluger, who has been tapped to host the latest Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anne Hathaway has a great deal of fun as Kluger, imbuing her with all the elitist behavior she’s accused of having by her critics as well as the insecurities that are most likely a reality for the actress.

The score requires a desperate fashion designer, Rose Weil, to adorn the insecure actress in a $150 million diamond necklace that they will steal during the extravaganza event.  Helena Bonham Carter nearly runs away with the show as Weil, who is nervy and flighty along with bringing some of the more brilliant moves to the operation. Mindy Kahling is the diamond expert Amita, willing to do anything to get out from under the thumb of her mother. Rihanna shows some dramatic chops as Nine-Ball, the team’s hacker, who wisely uses many of the Gala security company’s fail-safes against them. Hip hop artist Awkwafina plays the street tough pickpocket hired to perform the most delicate part of the plan, getting the goods off the mark under high security.  Finally, their fence, Tammy, another former crewmember, now a homemaker with quite a side business of her own, is played by the always excellent Sarah Paulson.

Like any heist film there are details that come to light late in the game that make for some minor surprises. The delight of this film, however, is just watching these women work. All of these actresses are at the tops of their games playing very likable criminals who are also at the tops of their games. I can’t stress enough, however, how delightful Carter is as the fashion designer. I hear she’s being considered for the next Bond villain, and although this is a very different role than that one surely would be, I couldn’t be more excited for that prospect based on her performance here. Blanchett is the pinnacle of cool, as always. And Bullock’s presence here makes me think that she should probably be offered more roles like this one. She’s the perfect replacement for Clooney as the confident leader and consummate professional. Kahling could’ve used a little more comedic riffing throughout, however.

The film suffers the same problem as the other Ocean’s movies, however, in that the crew of thieves is so smart and so good at what they do their success is never really in question. The antagonists in these films never seem to be given a chance by the scripts to pose a real threat to the protagonists. Here we are given two. Claude Becker is a former con man turned legitimate artist burning up the New York art scene. He’s pulled into the con due to his involvement in the con that sent Debbie to jail. Debbie’s plans for him are really no surprise. James Cordon plays John Frazier, the authority figure who could just ensnare the crew. Since he’s an insurance adjuster and not some form of law enforcement, he’s never really treated as a direct threat. The tension is a little low as a result.

Despite it’s somewhat laid back treatment of the heist formula, Ocean’s 8 is a fun time at the movies. It looks great and so does the cast. They play well together, and the con they’re playing is a fun romp. While it’s not a must see, it won’t disappoint or offend anyone, and it leaves the door open for more. The question still remains, is Danny really dead, or is that just another con?

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