Story Pile: Ocean’s 8

I feel like this movie doesn’t even merit a review. I should just kick open the door and shout HOLY SHIT THIS RULES, all fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, I’m out energy as I storm out into the night. But this is a dignified place, I tell myself, and so instead let’s try and put some energy into explaining why this movie.

Your vital statistics! Ocean’s 8 is the fifth movie in the Ocean’s franchise and its second cast shift, all operating around the ‘premise’ if that counts, of a group of incredibly cool celebrities doing a heist of some variety with the overall air that it’s really neat to see these cool actors having fun making a fun movie. There’s a drop of tension, sure, and there’s a puzzle about how the thing that got done got done, but at the heart of it, an Ocean’s movie is about watching actors you’re kind of fond of for some reason be really cool, usually to a soundtrack that rules.

In this case, the flip of the script is that we’re dealing with Debbie Ocean, Danny Ocean’s sister, played in this case by Sandra Bullock, and her gang of ne’er-do-wells is in fact crime ladies. Isn’t that a shocking twist?

It’s so wild, because the last time they did this, the gang was entirely men and nobody thought that was weird, but for some reason, this time around? People were? mad? for some reason?

Weird.

I don’t know if it’s obvious or not but in case it wasn’t, I love the Ocean’s movies (except Twelve). I love the music, I love the general style, I think Thirteen was better than most people were going to give it credit for, and I can enjoy them even knowing that the first crew were almost all dreadful humans, the second crew has some real stinkers of people in it (also RIP Bernie Mac), and that Ocean’s Twelve exists at all. I went in to Ocean’s Eight expecting to see Another Pretty Good one, and to enjoy the movie as landing somewhere between the Clooney Eleven and maybe Thirteen.

I was not expecting for this one to beat the rest of them into the ground, and run off with the keys to their collective cars. It’s really good, and part of why it’s so good is, I think, because of what it’s not.

In Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Danny’s plan is this complex interconnected set of thefts and pulls and bluffs and generally doesn’t use anything technologically too nonsensical but does kinda push it when they detonate an EMP BOMB in the middle of Las Vegas which, gosh, that’s a terrorism, and would kill lots of people with pacemakers. It’s also, when you get down to it, a plot about trying to Get Back His Girlfriend, who, based on observations, was terrible with him. It pulls in a ringer, a twelfth, which has always bugged me, and it means that this heist that largely wants to play fair with you (though there is the fliers plot hole) that still has to break its rules and ask you to not ask a few questions.

What makes Ocean’s Eight so fun to me is that how, and yes, it’s twenty years later, technology has marched the hell on, but largely, it does a lower tech version of its heist. In the 2001 movie, having eyes and ears everywhere was really hard, personal cameras and recording specific technical data was basically impossible, but now, a character just has their phone on them.

When you watch a heist movie, part of the joy is execution. It’s when you’re dealing with watching a pickpocket on a movie screen, being able to believe that what you saw is a thing that happened, rather than just the miracle of editing. What’s worse, it’s honestly really hard to set up a proper lift on camera, because part of the point of lifts is that they’re about dividing and splitting attention and taking windows of opportunity that you’re not meant to notice, so when you use an edited camera shot to both show you an honest opportunity to miss something, it kind of all works against the practice itself.

Watching this movie, though, I never had a moment of sigh when I saw a lift that I knew couldn’t happen; a trick that had to be done without actually being done. This isn’t to say that a better sleight artist than me (and I mean, that’s, that’s almost everyone) wouldn’t be able to call bullshit on some of this, but I have just enough expertise to know how doable some of this stuff is.

Same thing with the tricks Debbie pulls in the opening, where she basically wields Raw White Ladyness to do some very simple pulls. Oh, oh, and the hacking section, which is so realistic it looks fake. There was an entire country’s news cycle dominated by a hack that was basically this.

It’s a movie with a big cast, and all the cast spend enough time bouncing off one another that there’s not a lot of room to do anything but have fun. This isn’t a movie with time to do a long, serious and terrible plot about how one of the characters is grappling with, I dunno, online gambling addiction – they’re all people who have their own stuff going on, and this job is part of their lives. It’s an important part, sure, but it’s a thing they’re coming together to do, they’re going to do it, and their motivations don’t need to be sophisticated because you don’t need to be particularly motivated to want millions of dollars.

And okay, so, let’s talk briefly about Tess.

In Ocean’s Eleven, part of the heist is Tess. Danny sets things up so he can offer Benedict money for Tess, and Benedict considers that hey, maybe, yeah. Tess hears this, and her reaction to this is to realise that Benedict is scum.

Now.

Now okay.

See.

The thing is, she also knew that Danny is scum.

Tess’ decision to jump ship from Benedict to Danny is one of the weakest points in that movie. It’s a blatant demonstration of how the universe isn’t characters with their own inner lives relating to one another, but is instead a great big pachinko machine with DANNY WINS at the bottom when all the balls stop bouncing. 13 plays in a similar space as an attempt to put a bow on the Oceans narrative, and twelve sucks, but the basic premise is that Danny gets to win because Danny’s a winner and it… just… kinda sucks.

That’s not how it goes in Ocean’s Eight.

No, Ocean’s Eight is about revenge.

The movie has a fun punch to it, it’s about cool characters whose ambitions and interests are surprisingly non-asshole, there isn’t treatment of a person’s romantic interest as a prize, and these characters are just a delight to watch ricocheting off one another while a rad heist with a few twists happens around you.

What more did you fucking want?

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