I watched an episode of Adam Ruins Everything last night that confirmation biased the heck out of my thoughts about the MPAA. Sure, their source was my source, but I still felt justified. There's no real reason why this is PG-13. There's some mild language. I guess the movie is about a bunch of criminals, which I suppose is philosophically PG-13 worthy, I guess? I think that might be it. I really don't have much beyond that. Again, my repeated theory is that the rating is just intended audience, not a content thing.
DIRECTOR: Gary Ross
I really liked the first Ocean's Eleven movie. I'm not talking about the Sinatra one. People have always steered me away from that one, despite my love of classic film. One day, I'll probably bite the bullet and one of two things will happen. 1) I'll dislike it, but not regret having seen it because it makes me more knowledgeable or 2) I'll tell myself I like it to be the hipster who likes the least known entry in the franchise. But I'm already distracting myself. I liked the first one a lot, but I really loathed the first sequel, Ocean's Twelve. (This numbering system is giving me an ulcer because you have to have an understanding of both release date and content to get through these movies in the right order.) Then Ocean's Thirteen was closer to the first movie, but almost a copycat of the first movie. I also firmly believe that none of these movies had ever gotten close to the payoff of the first film, until Ocean's Eight.
The con / heist movie is about deception and misdirection. I always find these movies boggling because the movie needs to both have you as a member of the crew, but also somewhat in the dark with how this is going to play out. It's a fine line when it comes to telling the story. Like a good mystery, all of the clues need to be there throughout the film, but there can't be straight up lies. Ocean's Twelve and Thirteen, unfortunately, make the mystery borderline unsolvable. Ocean's Eleven didn't do that. The Ocean's franchise might be the problem with a sequel. The reason that the first Ocean's movie exists is because someone thought of an amazing heist and perfected. The sequel's worked backward from there and it doesn't quite play out the same way. But with Ocean's 8, it's been a while since we got an entry in the franchise. This movie felt worked on and crafted. I am going to go into what makes the movie work beyond the heist throughout this analysis, but it is a fundamentally good heist. The stakes seem so much lower than the casino job that Danny Ocean pulls in the first movie, but that's exactly what needed to happen. The movies kept trying to raise the bar with what people could steal and often would have to deal with the practicality of moving the object. The Toussaint is a difficult grab, but it is a necklace. The practicality it of this stolen object means that certain film elements won't be involved. There's no car chases. There's no trucks busting through walls. It actually makes it a different movie and that's really smart. The franchise, up to this point, was suffering from trying to top itself unsuccessfully. Making the object something that can be slipped into a pocket or a purse makes the story about precision and stress. Both cons are about misdirects, but like Constance's Three-Card-Monty, it's trying to keep an eye on an object that is constantly moving and shifting between locations. The way they movie it is clever, but then the movie takes it a step further and remembers that there has to be something unexpected.
There's a slight misstep here, but it really is minor. Reminder, I don't like being lied to about the heist. I don't mind you not outright telling me. In fact, I shouldn't be outright told. But I need to have seen and ignored clues to make me excited for the movie. It is the magic trick I need out of the con movie. It's the misdirect. However, there's one very important bit of information that is left out from the story. It's not the worst and most of that element of the heist is telegraphed in other clues, but the actual execution of this moment is completely hidden from the story. I say that it is a minor clue because I don't see how they could even include it without the entire jig being up, but it is still a little bit disappointing. But the movie does this cool thing with the big reveal. The misdirect, overall, still works. Like I said, it's a little bit of a cop out, but the extra reveal is actually worth more than the trickery that got to that reveal. Again, this is all a blog about my hypocrisy because I've been far more critical of other tropes. I don't know why why this works. It's such a cherry-on-top moment. The movie is good. The reveal is great. It doesn't necessarily make a great movie, but it does make a good "gotcha" moment. Ocean's Eight is really good at keeping me guessing for a lot of it. For as straightforward as the whole heist is, there are a lot of moments that have me focused on them. The pacing of the movie is what helps a lot with that. Director Gary Ross will intentionally show me an object. I'll obsess about that object for a long time, knowing it will come into play later. But the way that this movie is paced, the movie waits five minutes after I've completely forgotten about that object to reveal the object's purpose. (I'm really doing my darndest to not spoil things, making my writing criminally enigmatic.) That's talent. Maybe I should be giving credit to the editor because it works. The cinematographer gives you plenty of opportunity to highlight important details, but leaves it at "fair chance." That's awesome.
Overall, I like the cast...with almost the exception of the leads. Every secondary character I find completely fascinating. They have these interesting personalities and, like the first Ocean's movie, they all have an integral part to play in the heist. (Again, sequels are problematic.) Oddly enough, I didn't think I would like Rihanna's 9-Ball, but she grew on me over the course of the movie. She plays aloof really well, so I got on board pretty quick. I thought the 9-ball gimmick was a bit much, but I got invested in at one point. My wife and I weren't sure about the ever shifting accents going on with her character, but I feel like the choices might have been intentional. There might be a diagetic explanation for that decision, so it works. Sandra Bullock...I don't know. She's not bad, by any stretch of the imagination. But she also doesn't quite have the charisma that I was kind of hoping for. I rarely get excited to see Sandra Bullock in a movie. I'm sorry. That might make me a bad person, but there's nothing wholly amazing about her performance in this. If we were better about aging --precisely women aging -- in Hollywood, we would be fundamentally better people and Sandra Bullock could be getting better roles. Once again, Sandra Bullock is trying to play the roles she would have played twenty years ago. I love that Jamie Lee Curtis is constantly shifting what is expected of her. Sandra Bullock, not so much. She's good enough, but she's resting a lot on a good script and a good cast. She's not leading the cast. She's just more part of the cast. Cate Blanchett, also, might not be doing what she's capable of. I think Blanchett is an extremely talented actor. I love her in most things. The odd thing is that she was asked to play Brad Pitt in this one. She's doing an outstanding Brad Pitt impression for this movie. I love Pitt's character in the other ones. But can't we let Blanchett be someone new? She's good enough to pull that off. I know that Pitt's character does something very narratively smart for ensemble movies, but it just seems lazy to make a new Brad Pitt. Bullock is already Debbie Ocean. She's taking cues from George Clooney for her decisions. But even Bullock pulls back a little bit on that whole idea. While Blanchett is doing a better job (sorry!) than Bullock, Bullock is at least smart in making the role her own. I do love the rest of the cast. I love Mindy Kaling all the time and she doesn't disappoint in this one. I don't know what the Tinder thing added to the narrative, but it's okay to have some off ideas from time to time. I'm really starting to appreciate Awkwafina. She's showing up in stuff and I always love her character. She's the character I kept watching for because she's funny without trying to steal a scene. (Pun intended.) I'm actually going to say that I love Helena Bonham Carter in this one. I tend to write Bonham Carter off in things because A) everyone loves her and I'm a bit too hipster and B) she keeps doing the same roles. This is just different enough that I love it. She's still playing to her strengths, but I like the character a lot here. It's larger than reality, but not Tim Burton crazy.
Can I just stress how baller the soundtrack is? I normally play the soundtrack to the movie while I write the analysis to get me in the same mood that I was when I watched the movie. This one is crushing. The Ocean's movies normally have amazing soundtracks. Ocean's Eight may give the original a run for its money. I was blasting it today in front of my students and they were really digging it. It's something timeless and super-cool. I could listen to this all of the time.
Ocean's Eight is not a perfect movie. I don't think it was ever supposed to be. The cultural impact of the first movie seemed almost incidental. I don't think that it was ever supposed to make the canon, but it got really close. It was supposed to be a fun summer movie. The sequels took so many steps back that I never thought we'd get a great heist movie again, let along a great Ocean's movie. But this one is pretty great. It has a great feel to it. It is a satisfying con movie, making it a great mystery movie. The jokes don't take center stage, which is a bit of a shame. There aren't a ton of laughs, which I would have liked. I got a couple of really good snorts, but nothing that made me die laughing. That doesn't really matter though because it gets all the things it needs to get right, right. Ocean's Eight is a fun time with a great cast and that's what I wanted.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.