For some reason, the addition of women to a major franchise traditionally populated by men is something that’s considered controversial. Of course, there’s the whole Ghostbusters debacle from a few years back, but even outside of that, the increased role of women in series like Star Wars has prompted internet anger, protests, and even the harassment of actors involved in the movies (predominantly aimed at women of color) from angry men with nothing better to do than yell about movies on platforms like Twitter and YouTube.
Thankfully, Gary Ross’s Ocean’s Eight has managed to mostly escape this backlash. Granted, the film’s first trailer still has a ridiculous amount of dislikes on YouTube (especially given that it’s one of the best-edited trailers we’ve gotten in a while), but overall it seems like the Internet Manbaby Brigade™ has decided to give a pass on this one. Whether it’s because they’re too busy playing Fortnite or because they realized that the Ocean’s Trilogy was not generally something that most people had strong opinions on, the IMB has opted to simply let the film be. I’m quite frankly glad that this is the case, because now it’s a lot easier for people to discuss the film on its own merits. And believe me, those merits are quite strong. Ocean’s Eight is a great time.
Fresh off a five-year stint in jail, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has the perfect heist planned – stealing a priceless antique necklace from the neck of A-list actor Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) during the Met Gala. She meets up with her old partner, Lou (Cate Blanchett) and almost immediately puts a team together: fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), jewelry maker/diamond expert Amita (Mindy Kaling), computer hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), and stay-at-home mom Tammy (Sarah Paulson). However, there is more to the heist than meets the eye initially. To say more would spoil the fun.
Don’t get my previous statement wrong, I adore Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Trilogy. All three films are great fun, with stylish direction and an incredibly charismatic cast (and Casey Affleck) coming together to make some seriously breezy fun. But what I love most about them is that they are hangout movies at the core, a place for a bunch of movie stars to riff on each other and generally have a good time. This is something that Ocean’s Eight, co-written by Ross with up-and-coming screenwriter Olivia Milch, gets and succeeds at incredibly. The cast is all at their most charismatic here, and moviegoers will definitely be arguing about who their favorite was after leaving the theater. For some, it will be Cate Blanchett as the veteran thief who absolutely oozes coolness wherever she goes. For others, it will be Awkwafina as a youthful pickpocket who has most of the best comedic beats (the absolute best one goes to Mindy Kaling, for the record). For many, it’s Anne Hathaway as a vain actress who feels like a knowing parody of what her image was for the longest time, before people finally got over themselves and she was able to shake it off.
But for me, this was Sandra Bullock’s show from top to bottom. Bullock has been a consistently great performer for the longest time, but it sometimes feels like we take her for granted. Yeah, she’s had her fair share of stinkers, but she’s got a better batting average at this point in her career than a number of her male peers in the business, and a better screen presence than most of them to boot. The second she appears onscreen in Ocean’s Eight, she is dynamite—this is a true movie star performance, and it may be the best she’s ever been. I already hope that we get a few sequels to this just so I can see more of Bullock in this pure movie star mode.
An area that I feel like a lot of people are going to latch onto is the direction. Gary Ross is a competent director who has his share of good movies, but when the director one is following up is none other than Steven Soderbergh, it’s going to be hard to stack up. As a result, Ross goes for direction that is inspired by Soderbergh—crisp and clear wides, camera movements that glide along with the character in focus, montages bridged by fun little editing tricks—but not entirely beholden to the kind of semi-experimental things he often does, even in his most mainstream fare. Some of it feels a little rote, and Ross’s workmanlike nature often threatens to work against the movie, but after two films littered with mediocre handheld camerawork, Ross’s restraint in that category for this film is downright admirable and refreshing. It also helps that Ross’s director of photography, Eigil Bryld, does an absolutely fabulous job lensing the film, with the Met Gala scenes especially shining in regards to the quality of the lighting.
One thing that no one will be arguing about is the quality of Daniel Pemberton’s score. Pemberton has really proved himself as a composer in the last couple of years, with his work for directors like Ridley Scott and Guy Ritchie propelling him into the stratosphere. He continues his great work on Ocean’s Eight, building on David Holmes’ scores for the original trilogy in exciting ways while also putting his own stamp on it. I’m always happy to report when scores are memorable in this era of temp-tracking and replaceable composers from Remote Control Productions, and Pemberton is without a doubt one of the best we have in terms of memorable, easily hummable tunes. If sequels are made, they better snap him up ASAP.
Ocean’s Eight has everything we could have wanted and more—a smart heist, a great cast, a spectacular score and a number of surprises. After a summer top-loaded with expensive tentpoles (a bunch of which I happily saw and really liked), a nice mid-budget lark is just what I needed to wind down. It is quite possibly my favorite film of the summer so far. And if that’s not enough for you, Sandra Bullock threatens someone with a prison-made shiv in the first fifteen or so minutes. That’s just wonderful.