Thursday, 5 July 2018

Movie Review: Ocean's 8 (2018)




The plot: After spending the last five years in prison, professional thief Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has only one thing on her mind: Pulling off a high-profile heist at the upcoming Met Gala. As she recruits her team, including her partner Lou (Cate Blanchett), fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), jewellery maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson), pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna) and the unwitting celebrity patsy Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), Debbie plans to steal a highly-valuable piece of jewellery that, if they can pull it off, will have them set for life.


Before getting into the cast list this time around, I first want to go into the intent behind said casting. Now, when news of this film first hit, a lot of people (namely those still licking their proverbial wounds after the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot) were worried that this was going to be another situation of all-female gimmick casting. Whether this was done in the name of representation or Hollywood cynicism, I honestly don’t know, but here’s the thing: Have any of these people actually seen the original Ocean’s Eleven? Its whole reason for existing is as a star vehicle for the Rat Pack, a fact that is plainly obvious in how some of the cast spent more time singing Ain’t That A Kick In The Head than speaking written dialogue. It’s so blatant, it makes the Soderbergh re-imagining look like an indie flick by comparison. This is a franchise born out of gimmick casting… but apparently, it’s only a problem when it’s women being casted? Yeah, let the reactionaries burn out their need to complain on this one. For everyone else, let’s get into the cast list proper.

Bullock makes for a very strong central performance here, getting across her character’s knack for large-scale masterminding and smaller-scale trickery very nicely. Hell, she might even outshine Clooney here with how well she wears the character of a professional thief. Blanchett as her partner not only does well with the accent, her chemistry with Bullock is quite astounding to see. I say ‘astounding’ because, for a very grounded and natural relationship between the two, I can’t help but wonder why her turn in Carol didn’t turn out this well. Their partnership is established, yet doesn’t feel like it needs to be emphasised for the sake of an audience… you know, how people actually act in relationships.

Carter as an Irish fashion designer might not be as cracked out as that description may come across, but credit to her because this is the best she’s been in quite some time in her very skittish mannerisms. Rihanna, between this and Valerian, is becoming an unlikely actress to keep an eye on, as her calm and collected demeanour here as the resident hacker gives a nice dose of cool to the main group. Awkwafina is a joy as always to see on the big screen, Kaling gets some nice moments to herself in the story, Paulson makes for one of the more grounded depictions of modern criminality out of the titular 8, Hathaway has a lot of fun as the incredibly vain celebrity patsy, and James Corden… is here, but let’s try and ignore that for the time being. This is still the best thing he’s been in for the last 2-3 years, but he still isn’t bringing that much to the table.

Soderbergh’s retooling of Ocean’s Eleven holds a very special place in my heart, as it’s the first film that made me realise I friggin’ love heist capers. All the ludicrously intricate detail, the showing of chess-piece storytelling that I can actually vibe with, even the incredibly slick production values; I love all of it… save for maybe Don Cheadle’s legendarily awful British accent. Knowing how even Soderbergh’s own sequels never managed to live up to the precision of the first, how does this film hold up as part of the series? Well, for a start, it’s still chock-full of all those little intricacies to make the plot work. There’s a certain temptation to make a joke about how the reduced number of actors here is representative of the respective casts’ wages (11 for the men, 8 for the women), but the smaller central cast means that the story actually flows a lot more smoothly, since it means less juggling screen time between characters. Along with a smidgeon more development for said characters, the details of the heist itself flow very nicely, never feeling too bogged down in the nitty-gritty or over-explaining how clever this all is. It may not push for genius points as hard as Soderbergh did, but it really doesn’t need to. It looks good, and director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games, Free State Of Jones), DOP Eigil Bryld and editor Juliette Welfling do a good job of living up to Soderbergh’s original aesthetic.

But that’s all about its standing on its own; what about as part of the bigger Ocean’s canon? Well, even though Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen were rather slight, they both added a rather crucial part of the Ocean’s puzzle: Thievery as sport. Steering the intention away from naked revenge (which, admittedly, this film dabbles in as well), they presented this kind of high-level larceny as a showing of honour amongst thieves. Far less about the money gained from such ventures, and more about the sheer thrill of the enterprise. They made stealing things look cool, basically, and this film follows in that idea. Along with presenting the “hey, I’m a relative of a somewhat famous character, can I have a movie?” idea of the whole Ocean family being part of this business, it also shows Debbie’s scheming as carrying on that tradition. A means of paying respect to a colleague, as well as paying off a five-year stint in solitary confinement to cook up this scheme to begin with. But that’s just its stance on its immediate predecessor; compared to the 1960 original, this feels like a bladed answer to that film’s very casual and embarrassingly-of-the-time sexism. Watching that film today, it’s hard to sympathise with people who casually joke about revoking women’s right to vote. Fast-forward nearly 60 years later, and we have a film largely populated by people that the original would just completely write off. Kind of like the people comparing this to the 2016 Ghostbusters, come to think of it. We may still have a ways to go yet, but as far as media representation, we’ve made a lot of healthy steps in the right direction since then.

All in all, this works both as a fun heist flick and as a continuation of the series it’s attached to. The acting is genuinely impressive, particularly from Bullock and Blanchett as one of the most natural lesbian pairings I think I’ve ever seen on the big screen (subtlety has its rewards, I’m just sayin’), the visuals align themselves with the slickness of Soderbergh but allow for enough of its own identity to stick out, and the writing builds on the series’ ethos concerning thievery and makes for a rather effective showing of how balanced representation doesn’t need to be this arduous affair, like so many naysayers try and depict it as. In actuality, it’s pretty simple and can lead to positive results; maybe we can stop treating such things like a novelty and just make with the equality already. I want more of this.

It ranks higher than The Polka King, as whatever moral sticking points that exist here are both intentional and part of the fun. Ocean’s 8 manages to deliver as a continuation of Soderbergh’s trilogy (and even the 1960 original, given the casting), and works as a silky-smooth offering in its own right. However, as good as this is, I’d be lying if I said that I think this is any great mile marker for the industry; it’s a good thing to see on the big screen, but female-led blockbusters have already delivered even more potent work than this, so it might get lost in the shuffle. Maze Runner: The Death Cure, regardless of individual opinions on its worth as a film, is the swan song for the entire third-wave of YA adaptations; it’s the kind of film that, one way or another, will end up having some form of historical significance. This film is good, but it’s not “it’s been a good 6 years, but it’s time to close the book on this trend” good.

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