It’s 2018 and the caper film appears to be here to stay. Not only because Ocean’s 8 released to cinemas this weekend, but also because last year’s Logan Lucky was an excellent caper that not only surprised but pulled off the all-important montages cued to music expertly. There’s something about a well-shot montage setting up the plan, enacting the plan, and juking when the plan goes awry. Ocean’s 8 reaffirms the caper film as a tried and true cinema experience due to its A-list and appropriate McGuffin that draws your attention for every minute. That said, this film isn’t perfect and isn’t quite as clean as a caper should be.
This film may be within the Ocean’s 11 universe (Sandra Bullock plays Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie) but it’s definitely its own movie with a new set of rules, a quirky and eclectic cast, and an exceptional soundtrack with good editing. The cast is inspired with some excellent choices adding a touch of humor (Rihanna is great as Nine Ball) and a dash of certainty (Cate Blanchett is so damn cool). Each character plays a part and while some are more important than others it’s relatively believable they were all required to pull the caper off. There’s some messaging about the all-female cast–at one point Bullock’s Ocean argues no men can be on the crew because they get noticed–which gives the all-female cast some validity. It’s also a revenge film of sorts, though I don’t want to spoil it, as opposed to the previous Oceans 11 being about Danny Ocean getting money and his girl back. The cast is great and the story strong enough to make it stand out on its own.
We have reached the point where caper films follow a strict set of rules and rhythms such that the audience can anticipate (“god I’m so smart”) and be surprised (“I didn’t see that coming”). That somewhat hinders this film, which at times seems to be a caper-by-numbers so as to fill us in on the plan and get its characters in the right place at the right time. Because it seems to be following a formula, little plot holes become more obvious. Take for instance the cameras that dot the gala they’re robbing. A lot of the film hinges on a blind spot, but a lot goes on outside this blind spot that is presumably being filmed, yet this doesn’t matter in the slightest.
The best caper film makes it difficult to get the plan locked into place or at the very least requires the characters to do a little extra work to pull it off. This film leans heavily on Ocean’s plan being concocted over 5 years in prison so that if anyone questions it, some character will remind us 5 years was spent on it so never you mind. There’s also a lot of convenient elements that make the caper not quite as airtight as the screenwriters may have hoped. This will make you ponder as you drive home about the plan and put into question how ingenious Ocean was. That’s a major failing of the film, because it’s capers like this one that make you want to cheer on the characters who did the impossible.
Because it bears the same name as the original Ocean’s 11 it’s impossible not to compare the two. The stellar cast may be matched, but the overall caper isn’t quite as clean or believable. This is possibly due to a few characters playing small parts and not appearing in much of the film (like Mindy Kaling’s Amita who really doesn’t need to be part of the plan for much of the film). Also, most of these characters have never even pulled off a caper close to this one, which further puts into question their calm and collected nature. Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) does a good job pushing the plot up the hill of caper-dom, but it’ll nag at you how Helena Bonham Carter’s Rose could be so chill about this plan when she’s just a fashion designer, or Awkwafina’s Constance not being amazed by the plotting given she was a simple street grifter.
This is the sort of film that you can have a good enough time at the movies, but you really shouldn’t think too deeply about. It does more than just pass the time, with some great acting and interesting messaging, but it doesn’t pull off the caper film as succinctly as others have before it.
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