Review of "Ocean's 8" – And Yes, There's a Reason to Review It on HNN

Culture Watch
tags: movie review, Oceans 8

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.

Ocean’s 8, the latest in the long time of Ocean’s heist thriller movies, stretching all the way back to the 1960s with Frank Sinatra and extended to recent years with George Clooney, is the delightful tale of an all-girl robbery ring. Their target is no ordinary liquor store or bank, but the historic, mammoth Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and its decades old Met Gala ball, whose tickets cost $30,000 each and whose guests include the most famous women in the world from Madonna to Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian, all dressed to the nines (on this red carpet, to the twelves and thirteens). The gaudy, publicity drenched Met Gala, held on the first Monday of May every year, would seem to be impregnable to thieves, but these girls find no trouble setting up a burglary with bling.

The female crew is led by Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie, played with eternal smugness by Sandra Bullock, who trolls New York to find the most accomplished female criminals in existence to assist her in this brazen scheme. They have a team, they have a plan and they have a target, a $160 million diamond necklace from Cartier’s the world-famous jeweler, to be worn by an actress.

The plan is to talk the celeb actress Daphne Kluger (played by Anne Hathaway, quite a celeb herself) into wearing the necklace so they can steal it. The film chronicles the gathering of the gang and the attempt to grab the necklace, whose wearer is surrounded by security people (who, of course, are no match for Bullock).

The strength of the Warner Bros. movie, that opened last week and already a box office hit, is the deep characterization of the girls in the robbery clan and the intricacy of the plot. They use special x-ray eyeglasses, huge computer reproduction machines that create a fake necklace and complete physical maneuvers in the Metropolitan Museum that seem to have come out of an NFL playbook.

The gala itself is called the biggest event of the year in the film, and it is. You see it on TV every year. The fabled actresses, outfitted in magnificent gowns, parade up the red carpet over the famous stairs of the Met’s entrance, pose for the cameras and give out short interviews. Their object is to be seen and they are. You love it for all the la-de-da language, air kisses, barely there hugs and the chance to see the stars (ooooooh, there she is – look!). It is just perfect and the entry of the celebs is the anchor of the movie. Hathaway comes up the stairs, the camera zeroes in on her necklace, then to Bulloch, and off we go.

Gary Ross did a superb job of directing the film, making the girls’ characterizations fit smoothly into the burglary plot. He gets a fine performance from Bullock and from all of the women playing her criminal associates – Cate Blanchett as Lou, Hathaway as Daphne, Helena Bonham Carter as Rose, Awkwafina as Constance, Mindy Kaling as Amnita, Sarah Paulson as Tammy, and Dakota Fanning as Penelope. James Corden is very good as the insurance investigator.

Ocean’s 8 is a good film and a welcome addition to the Ocean’s string of hits.

The problem with the movie, though, is that you learn nothing about the history of the gala. The Met Gala raises money for its Costume Institute, founded back in 1948. It has taken in an average of $11 million or so each year. Ex Vogue magazine editor Diana Vreeland was hired in 1979 to figure out a way to raise funds, garner publicity and make the Costume Institute something more than a big closet for gowns. She did. She invented the Gala, at first a swank party inside the museum that attracted the stars and the wealthy. She developed it and then, in the 1990s, Ann Wintour, the current editor of Vogue took over. Under her reign, the Met Gala became a big publicity/historic event. Celebrities, aware of the international attention they get from it, stampeded the gala, hauling their dress designers, hairdressers and PR people there with them. Inside, some of the stars perform at the party. It has become the sensation of the year. Who can forget actress Rihanna in that 2015 gown whose train extended from the steps of the museum all the way to Boston?

None of that history information is in the movie and it should be. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, built in the 1880s, one of America’ great cultural institutions, is an iconic building and its 70-year-old Costumer Institute is one of its treasures. That needs to be explained better to give more historical context to this otherwise wonderful heist caper.

Much has been made in the press about the girl bandits. How is an all-girl team of crooks different from an all-male team? Is this the crook edge of the Me-too movement? No. Criminals are criminals. Oh, there is a feminist nod or two in the movies, such as an all-girl group of rebels in George Washington’s boat crossing the Delaware painting and the witty remark by Bullock on why the girls are holding up the Met (“out there somewhere is an eight-year-old girl watching this who wants to grow up to be a criminal”). But the plot, and the way it is carried out, is the same. Think Dirty Dozen. This crew could be all guys, all women or a mixed bag of thieves. If you can hold up the Met, Cartier’s and Anne Hathaway at the same time, regardless of gender, you are giving crime a good name.

There has to be a sequel. Ocean’s 23– the robbery of the U.S. Mint? The White House? Kim Jong-un’s baseball card collection?

comments powered by Disqus