'Ocean's 8' Is a Goddamn Breath of Fresh Air
Like its predecessors, it’s a breezy film, but it’s also quietly revolutionary.
Photo from Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
The heist film is a well-trodden genre—for men. It is almost always the guys who get together to steal something valuable, which is perhaps why I’ve never understood the pleasure of the heist movie. The women, if they got to be on the team at all, always landed second-banana status at best—think Ellen Page in Inception, or Isla Fisher in Now You See Me. Bling Ring, in 2013, finally starred a squad comprised of women, but that was an indie film rather than a full-fledged blockbuster a la Baby Driver or the omnipresent Mission: Impossible franchise.
Ocean’s 8, with a budget of $70 million, is probably the first marquee heist movie with an all-women core cast, which ought to be recognized as the landmark it is. The latest sequel spawned by Ocean’s 11—directed by Gary Ross, though the original’s director Steven Soderbergh stays on as a producer—features Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), Danny Ocean’s sister, emerging from a stint in prison with an elaborate plan to rob Cartier’s most expensive necklace, the Toussaint. This necklace is valued at $150 million and stored in a vault, etc. etc. It requires a group of exactly seven—Debbie Ocean has calculated this precisely—to steal it. Cue the montage.
The previous Ocean’s installments were full of funny disguises, but Ocean’s 8 greatest triumph is the way it leans into the notion that women can pull off the ultimate con simply because they would never be suspects. This seems to echo the larger theme of women-led films and television shows this summer, as in Killing Eve’s insistence that only a woman could get closer to her target to strike him in the femoral artery without him noticing.
Like its predecessors, Ocean's 8 is a breezy film, but it’s also quietly revolutionary. Unlike so many blockbusters, it’s actually diverse, and the way the female con artists are deployed even suggests a critique of Hollywood's ethnic typecasting. The film’s skinny white women are able to infiltrate Vogue and pose at Met Gala attendees, while the women of color act as janitorial staff, though all three of them are the most technically proficient—Rihanna plays the hacker, Awkwafina the pickpocket, and Mindy Kaling the jeweler who has to reset a complex diamond piece in a time crunch.
The hijinks of the plot are fun, but the script is really only remarkable for the space it gives these actresses to perform. And they don’t let anyone down. Bullock and Cate Blanchett are impenetrable as the team’s core, Debbie and Lou, a sometimes flirtatious duo that also single-handedly revive the edginess of old lady names. Rihanna and Awkwafina embody their characters with a nonchalantly confident pastiche that balances out Mindy Kaling and Sarah Paulson’s quieter performances. Anne Hathaway breathlessly plays the narcissistic starlet Daphne Kluger, who has more self-awareness than one would expect from a diva. And Helena Bonham Carter is magnificent in her performance of neuroticism and “bad acting,” a kind of delivery that calls to mind her hallmark embodiment of Hermione Granger in the last Harry Potter movie.
It wouldn’t be an Ocean’s movie without huge, knowing, obvious winks to the audience. In setting the Ocean’s 8 heist at the Met Gala, we get the greatest con of all—that of A-list actresses playing laypeople at an event where we literally just saw them in real life. Seeing Rihanna as Nine Ball emerge onto the red carpet in a stunning red gown is funny specifically because we all remember her recent iconic costuming as a Pope. The setting also allows for cameo after cameo: Serena Williams, Gigi Hadid, Anna Wintour, Heidi Klum—the last of which lets Bullock show off her command of German.
The film is so utterly of its time it feels like a time capsule from 2018: One of the cutest bits involves Awkwafina teaching Mindy Kaling how to use Tinder. It is also obviously the kind of movie that there has been a hunger for—it’s set to make $40 million in its opening weekend.
Ocean's 8 has been criticized for being sexist for its focus on jewels, but the stereotype of women as diamond-obsessed is actually upended by the film. Every time our heroines appear to be staring at the jewels for an unnaturally long time—so that they can eventually steal them—they pass off their fascination as an endemically feminine pastime. (Men have stolen jewels too, like in Ocean’s 13, but critics have never cast men as being obsessed with fine necklaces.)
It may not be a reimagining of the entire genre—it is, after all, the fourth entry in a series. But if this is the direction the franchise is leaning, I will gladly give them my money for another sequel. They won't even have to steal it.
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