Sunday, June 24, 2018

Pros & Cons - Ocean's Eight, Reviewed

(One Night, Three Reviews! Part 1)

My love of caper films is well known, so when I first saw the trailer for Ocean's Eight, with an ensemble cast that had no dudes in it, I was pretty intrigued. When I saw it had a summer release date, I became concerned; I know that not everyone is into big-budget superhero and adventure movies, but I really am, and with so many of them crowding the multiplexes this summer (and most summers for the past 5 years) I figured I would end up catching O8 on a movie channel or netflix or some such.

Luckily my union local had a screening last week as a fiscal year-end event, so I got to see it on Wednesday with a bunch of co-workers.

We compared notes on exiting and all felt similarly, it turned out: we had all enjoyed the movie, especially the humor, which was plentiful. The stellar cast (which included Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter) was a delight, and all had the opportunity to step beyond their established accents, including Bullock speaking in German for much of the third act, which it turns out to be a language she spoke around the house thank to her mother).

The ones I was less familiar with (pop star Rihanna, rapper/actress Awkwafina, comedienne Mindy Kaling) were also given multiple chances to shine in different ways, one of the joys of a heist movie.  Suffice to say, many of the characters have surprising developments over the course of the film, even the mark, who, well, pretty much is as shallow as she is depicted to be, but is still not one-dimensional.

Writer/director Gary Ross (moving into directing from writing on flicks like Seabiscuit, Pleasantville and Big) does a great job keeping the caper business relatively clear (although a lot of that credit always needs to go to the editor - Juliette Welfling in this case) and not telegraphing the twists you are actively looking for. In such a scenario being surprised is a double delight, and Ross managed to pull this off on me a couple of times.

For instance, I am used to caper films in general (and certainly the three previous Ocean's movies) ending after the job is successfully pulled (oh, yeah, spoiler alert: they get the necklace-hope you're not shocked). In Ocean's Eight, however, there is an extended coda wherein insurance investigator James Corden (who I am neither her nor there on but does a wonderful job in this film) shows up in an extended coda post-climax to gum up the works after the fact.

In fact, the whole thing in kind of seamless except for one problem: there is very little tension.

Even during the heist, there is only one moment where you feel like uh-oh, maybe things are going to get balled up here, but that gets resolved fairly quickly. A caper film without jeopardy ceases to be a caper film, and even when they throw a complication into the mix regarding the clasp of the Macguffin necklace, they have it sorted out before the heist even goes into operation. As sexist as it may be to say, without a greater sense of risk, you are left with a movie that feels 'cute' instead of daring.

That said, Ocean's Eight is still a flawed but worthwhile entry into the caper movie canon. Besides, a movie about a robbery where nobody gets shot, punched, gassed, tranquilized or choked out is certainly worth your time (if not full ticket price) as counter programming in a summer full of louder, violenter and more explosive offerings.

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