Film & Television

‘Ocean’s 8’: The Heist Genre Gets A Fabulous
(Female) Makeover

In the last several weeks, I’ve found myself reviewing movies that sounded particularly promising but turned out to be lackluster. Dame Helen Mirren, a living legend and arguably one of the world’s most accomplished actresses, couldn’t quite salvage The Leisure Seeker. And the combined best efforts of Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenbergen weren’t enough to elevate Book Club beyond predictable and corny . Too often I’ve had to type “If only the script and direction were up to the level of this or that actress.”

So imagine my surprise — and delight — when the new movie Ocean’s 8 not only lived up to its considerable and costly hype but exceeded my expectations in so many ways.

Granted, said expectations were modest to begin with.

First of all, the “heist” genre is not my favorite (it’s probably not even in my top five). The film is the fourth in a contemporary franchise and the first with a new director (which usually doesn’t bode well). Plus, it was so clearly based on a gimmick: “Let’s take a successful macho formula and replace all the men with women.” Hello? Did Hollywood learn nothing from rebooting Ghostbusters? Sheesh!

Suffice it to say, I am happy to report that I was wrong.

A little background first. Ocean’s 8 (and its modern precursors Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen) owe their stories to the original Ocean’s 11, a 1960 film that featured members of the infamous “Rat Pack”: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. The plot hinged on an elaborate theft; Danny Ocean (Sinatra) recruits his former World War II buddies to rob five Vegas casinos, simultaneously, on New Year’s Eve. Although the cast included Angie Dickinson and Shirley MacLaine, it was very much a man’s man’s movie.

In 2001, director Steven Soderberg revisited Ocean’s Eleven with George Clooney as Danny. Similar to the original, Ocean puts together a dream team of criminals to rob multiple casinos. The movie, an ensemble piece featuring Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Bernie Mac, and Elliot Gould, among others, was praised as “witty, fast-paced and entertaining” and brought in more than $180 million. With reviews and receipts like those, it wasn’t long before Ocean’s Twelve was released. The sequel was less of a success with critics but still managed to earn more than $125 million. Ocean’s Thirteen, although making a mere $79 million, was favorably compared by reviewers and fans to the first one (well, the first one in the twenty-first century).

Are you a little confused? That comes with the territory. The suspense, and for many the fun, of the Ocean’s movies is that the heists themselves are so complicated and improbable, yet carried off with precision and sophisticated panache. An Ocean’s Fourteen seemed likely. However, Clooney reportedly wanted to leave the trilogy as it was, and, soon after, one of the costars, Bernie Mac, passed away. In 2015, rumors began circulating that a new Ocean’s film, with a female cast, was being developed. Although Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) would be directing, Soderbergh would stay on as a producer.

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  • Carol June 13, 2018 at 10:23 am

    Except, on a meta level, it does not pass the Bechdel test at all. After all, the very reason for its existence is that the Ocean series, and heist movies in general, is too male. This entire movie is a statement towards that point and very little else. If that’s progress, I’m not impressed.