Eight things Ocean’s 8 gets wrong about the heist movie
In the trailer for Ocean’s 8, Lou (Cate Blanchett) asks Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) why she needs to attempt to rob the Met Gala of more than $100 million.
“Because it’s what I’m good at,” Debbie replies, with a smirk.
It’s a line that gets at why heist movies are great: because they’re not about the financial gain, but the thrill of the heist itself. Debbie Ocean doesn’t want to rob the Met Gala because she can; she wants to rob the Met Gala because she can, and because she’d have fun doing it. It’s a line that made me excited for the release of Ocean’s 8: if the film could replicate the giddy amusement of Ocean’s Eleven and swap in a stellar all-female cast, it would be a breezy success.
But Ocean’s 8, unfortunately, does not replicate the fun of the ‘Ocean’s’ formula and let an all-female cast lead the way. Instead, it neglects the key elements that make the heist movie work in the first place. Here’s eight things Ocean’s 8 gets wrong about the heist movie.
1. The real con is on the audience.
Perhaps most essential to the heist movie is the subject of the film’s deception. Of course, there’s a heist inside the movie: Danny Ocean (George Clooney) robs the Bellagio Casino vault, and Debbie Ocean lifts a Toussaint diamond necklace. But the best heist movies don’t just trick the mark they are robbing; they trick the audience themselves. In Ocean’s Eleven, Danny lays out the entire heist plan for us...except for how he plans to carry $160 million out the front door of a casino. And so when the misdirection occurs at the end, we are fooled just as much as casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia).
At one point, Linus (Matt Damon) asks Danny: “Why don’t you just tell me? Why do you have to put me through all this?” Danny replies: “Where’s the fun in that?” He might as well have been speaking on behalf on director Steven Soderbergh. The fun of the movie is in not knowing. In Ocean’s 8, except for one fairly obvious and ultimately inconsequential twist, we are in on the entire plan, and it’s deflating to any sense of intrigue the film might have.
2. The con has to go wrong.
Implied in the first point is that the heist must appear to have been foiled, only to discover that our heroes were two steps ahead of us (and their mark) the entire time. In Ocean’s Eleven, a slew of events jeopardize the operation: the guy who has to acrobatically navigate around the security lasers injures his hand, a member of the crew has a heart attack, and the casino owner has a backup plan after the crew escapes the premises. Of course, Danny Ocean is ahead of it all, but these missteps add a level of suspense. Ocean’s 8, on the other hand, is a stunningly clean heist. Debbie Ocean lays out the plan in full; the plan is executed. There’s never a real moment where the plan seems to be at risk, and the film is much more boring for it.
3. We only care about the con because we care about the people running it.
The heist is not fun just because it’s illegal, or risky. It’s fun because the people pulling off the job are lovable. Ocean’s Eleven takes its sweet time setting up the motivations and character traits of Danny and Rusty (Brad Pitt). By the time we get to the heist, we know who they are. In Ocean’s 8 I didn’t feel like I got to know any of the characters very well, aside from Debbie. Lou is ostensibly the second in command on the crew, and it feels like she has all of 10 lines. The problem is simply that the attention to each member of the crew is stretched too thin, which leads us to point four...
4. We can’t care about the entire crew.
Nostalgia might make us believe that Ocean’s Eleven is an ensemble movie. It’s not: the film wisely focuses its attention on the key players. The movie focuses on Danny’s friendship with Rusty, his relationship with his ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts), and his vendetta against Terry, who happens to be romancing his ex-wife. The other players are vaguely defined, and amusing; they all have their moments in the heist. But they’re not what the story is about. In fact, the best scene isn’t a heist scene at all, but the tense dinner conversation between Tess and Danny early on, a scene that heightens the stakes more than any snafu during the heist ever could.
Debbie is clearly the lead in Ocean’s 8, but the movie largely strives for screen time egalitarianism. In a run time slightly shorter than Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s 8 attempts to set up the heist, pull off the heist, and make us emotionally invested in all eight crew members, a target, and an ex-lover of Debbie’s akin to Tess. It just can’t fit into one film. I could have used much, much more Anne Hathaway (the clear MVP, who steals the show as the ditzy target of the robbery), more Blanchett, and much, much less James Corden, who serves no purpose in this movie whatsoever.
5. There has to be internal strife.
In Ocean’s Eleven, the team doesn’t only have to overcome highly intensive security measures: they also have to overcome issues within the crew itself. When Rusty finds out that Danny has personal motivations to carry out the heist, he demands that Danny be kicked off the team. The same tactic is briefly employed in Ocean’s 8: Lou confronts Debbie about whether the heist is really just about getting back at her ex, Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), who happens to be Daphne Kluger’s (Hathaway) date to the gala. But Debbie explains it away, and the tension never arises again. The crew generally likes one another; most of them barely even know each other. They come together not for the fun of the heist, but to get a job done. It’s a coworker-type relationship, much less interesting than a quarreling band of brothers.
6. There has to be a mark.
Like, an actual person. Some of the best scenes in Ocean’s Eleven are between Rusty and Terry on the phone, as Rusty explains to Terry how he’s going to rob him, and Terry growls that Rusty had better run. Danny is robbing a trio of Vegas hotels, but he’s really trying to destroy Terry personally and professionally, and that’s why it’s so fun. In Ocean’s 8, the team is lifting the Toussaint diamond from around Hathaway’s neck. But Hathaway does not own the diamond necklace; she’s just wearing it on loan from Toussaint for the event. They are, in effect, robbing Toussaint. Hathaway is the mark, but she’s not actually the victim. And robbing a corporation that has nothing to do with the plot feels kind of, well, wrong. It’s just a job.
7. The con itself has to be, you know, tough.
In Ocean’s Eleven, the team has to knock out the entire power grid of Las Vegas, sneak a human being into the most heavily guarded vault ever built, and figure out how to walk out of the building unnoticed with more than $100 million on hand. In Ocean’s 8, they just have to take the Toussaint necklace off of Hathaway’s neck. At one point, a high-tech magnet on the back of the necklace threatens to ruin the heist during the planning process; the team quickly brings in a ringer to solve the issue in a matter of minutes. And unlike bags full of cash, a diamond necklace is a pretty easy thing to stash in your pocket and walk out the door with.
8. It helps to have a great director.
Even if all of these elements were present in Ocean’s 8, it might not have mattered without a director like Soderbergh at the helm. Gary Ross is a fine director, and he’s made some fine movies. But he doesn’t have the wit, or sense of patience, that a master like
Soderbergh possesses. Many of Ross’s scenes feel half-made; I could have used half the scenes at twice the length per scene. What Soderbergh recognized about the heist movie (also evidenced in the very good Logan Lucky last year) is that establishing characters is just as interesting as the heist itself, and there’s no need to rush to the heist. Following Ocean’s 11-13, starting the reboot with '8' implies that we might get a 9 and 10 as well. If Bullock and Co. do move forward with sequels, let’s hope that they can recognize the same.