Movie Beat: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett excellent in fantastically fun “Ocean’s Eight”
By Jenniffer Wardell
Rated PG-13 for language, drug use and some suggestive content
Screenplay by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch, story by Gary Ross, based on characters created by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell
Directed by Gary Ross
Starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Awkwafina and more
Grade: Three and a half stars
I’ve always judged heist movies by what I refer to as the “gasp” moment. No matter who’s doing the stealing, or what’s being stolen, there has to be at least one moment in the movie where they deftly reveal some big twist or surprise that they’d only hinted at subtly before. When it happens, it’s got to be good enough to make my eyes go wide and gasp with delight – the metaphorical version of the magician pulling a dragon out of their hat instead of a rabbit.
I am delighted to say that “Ocean’s 8,” a spinoff of the popular “Ocean’s” series, has an excellent “gasp” moment. It’s also a smart, crisply made, fun heist movie, with an excellent cast playing appealing characters I want to see more of. It pays respect to the original movies, capturing some of their spirit (particularly “Ocean’s 11,” the best of the bunch) while at the same time being uniquely and beautifully itself. I’m hoping this is the start of a brand-new franchise, and if it is I’ll be there for each and every one of them.
Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, the sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean (apparently, the entire family is very big into crime, except for dear Aunt Ida.) The movie follows some of the bullet points of the first movie – the Ocean gets out of prison and immediately sets the prep work for a huge heist in motion, only to reveal later that the heist has an ulterior motive – but it’s a riff rather than a remake. The movie is guided by the personalities of its characters, rather than the movies that came before, and there are some delightful surprises in store.
It could, perhaps, be slightly looser, clipping along so crisply that it takes a while to notice that the way things seem to be going will end up being ultimately untenable for at least several of the major characters. It’s a mark of quality that the movie runs like clockwork, but a little bit more chaos could have upped the drama early on. Also, the promotional materials ruined at least one of the movie’s surprises, which I’m profoundly bitter about.
The cast, however, is an unmitigated delight. Bullock is great as Debbie, who I would argue has a smoother touch than her brother and considerably more anger issues. Her usual partner in crime is Cate Blanchett’s Lou, who has some of Rusty’s flair (Brat Pitt’s character in the original films, FYI) but in many ways is a much sharper, tougher character. Debbie is clearly the “smooth” one in their relationship, while Lou is the “tough” one – a different dynamic than Clooney and Pitt’s characters had, and one that’s fascinating to play out.
The rest of the crew has no real correlation to the crew in the original films, all chosen for the unique needs of the particular heist and all of them brimming with personality. My favorites are Sarah Paulson’s housewife/champion fence and Mindy Kaling’s master jeweler who desperately wants to get away from her overbearing mother, but there are no wrong choices here. Watching them all play off each other, and overcome the various hurdles of the heist, are a real treat.
In the end, the only real thing that disappointed me is that there wasn’t more of it. As much as I loved “Ocean’s Eleven,” I think I just met my new favorite crew of professional thieves.
(Photo ©Warner Brothers)