I’m not generally a big fan of heist films; I’ve never watched any of the original Ocean’s Whatever movies. However, I saw the trailer for Ocean’s 8 a while ago and oh my goddess. So many incredible women I adore in one film? Plus bonus Richard Armitage? Yes please, and hurry it up, thanks. I actually went to see this one on opening day; I was that excited. I even had a glass of chardonnay with lunch beforehand, because this just seemed like the kind of movie that would go down nicely with a glass of chardonnay.
I will say right up front: Everyone’s delightful, and if you’re looking for a diverting summer movie this is a good bet. Don’t let my ill-tempered ranting put you off if you’re interested. All these awesome actors deserve your support.
But I can’t help it: I’ve been writing for so long that when I see a movie or read a book, my Writer Brain starts picking things apart. And it found lots of things to pick at in Ocean’s 8.
So here be spoilers: Sandra Bullock gets out of prison and immediately starts carrying out a huge heist she cooked up while she was in jail. And I do mean huge: She wants to steal a crazy-expensive Cartier diamond necklace that hasn’t been out of Cartier’s vault in about fifty years.
I mean, wow. That’s gonna be super-tough, right?
And she doesn’t just want the necklace because it’s insanely valuable. She’s got another, far more personal motive: framing Richard Armitage, the ex-boyfriend who ratted her out to the cops and got her thrown in jail. Great! A very relatable desire. Story Genius would approve. So far, so good.
Now one can’t do a thing like that alone, so she and Cate Blanchett, her partner in crime, round up a diverse group of criminals possessing the skill sets that will be needed to pull this off. Rihanna’s an ace hacker, Awkwafina’s a gifted petty thief, Mindy Kaling’s a diamond expert, Helena Bonham Carter is a broke fashion designer who can get access to It-Girl celeb Anne Hathaway and that Cartier necklace, and Sarah Paulson knows how to get her hands on machines that can create perfect replicas of things like priceless Cartier necklaces.
Together, they focus on getting that necklace on Anne’s neck and then off it again at the Met Gala.
Annnd … spoiler: The entire thing goes off without a major hitch.
I guess I should be impressed. I mean, I can barely get myself off to work in the morning without at least three major complications arising. Stealing a multimillion dollar Cartier necklace at the Met Gala? That seems like a situation ripe for things going horribly — and interestingly — wrong.
But no. The heist depends on people who don’t know what’s happening behaving in certain ways, and everybody responds in exactly the way they must for the theft to work. Anne’s It Girl celebrity is easily manipulated into working with Helena the has-been designer. I had no idea getting a job with Vogue was so easy (and wish I’d known that back when I was fresh out of college), but Sarah is hired by the magazine in the blink of an eye, so she’ll be able to see the Gala plans from the inside and feed the info to her criminal cohorts. Everyone else gets jobs inside or around the venue on the night without any trouble.
Other potential problems are dispensed with in seconds. Example: It turns out the necklace has to be unfastened with a special magnetic doohickey that only Cartier’s security guards have. Now that seems like it should be a showstopper. And imagine the story possibilities if the gang doesn’t find out about that little wrinkle until they’re actually trying to get that necklace off Anne’s neck, right? That’s your basic Holy shit, what do they do now? edge-of-the-seat premise.
But no. They learn about this hitch well before the gala, and Rihanna’s little sister figures out a solution in about ten seconds. Phew! I was afraid an interesting plot complication was going to happen for a minute there.
The movie also relies on lots of people tossing around the famed Idiot Ball. The Cartier guards who have been assigned to trail Anne at the gala and never let that necklace out of their sight allow Sandra to shame them into not following Anne into the ladies’ room.
I just don’t think real life guards would be that easily deterred, y’know? I’ve seen enough viral videos to suspect that the guards would be far more likely to knock Sandra to the ground and step over her prone body, a little skirted silhouette on the door be damned.
Oh, and also? A worker at what we’re told is a top-flight security firm clicks a link in a strange email without a second of hesitation.
Good lord, movie — come ON now. Yes, smart people do stupid things. Sometimes a random guy can get into the Academy Awards and walk off with Frances McDormand’s Oscar. People let their guards down. Shit, as they say, happens. But when your entire plot relies on lots of people being dumb and failing at their jobs, especially when it’s of paramount importance that they don’t? Sorry, but that’s weak storytelling.
Another missed opportunity: You’d think that in a group of criminals there might be a personality clash or two. But there aren’t, and I was incredulous. None of them got cold feet? Nobody was secretly in league with the cops? Not one of these crooks thought “The hell with these other bitches — I’m taking that crazy-valuable necklace and heading for the hills?” Apparently not.
Oh, excuse me: There’s a bit of static between Sandra and Cate at one point. Cate isn’t happy about the revenge aspect of Sandra’s plot and threatens to walk. Sandra brushes it off, and the whole thing is never spoken of again. One wonders why it was ever brought up in the first place. It’s almost as if someone realized that this plot was insanely conflict-free, but didn’t really know what to do about it.
And yes, there are a couple of twists at the end. But to me, those twists were of the “Huh” variety rather than the “OH MY GOD I MUST WATCH THIS MOVIE OVER AND OVER AGAIN TO FIGURE OUT HOW THEY PULLED THAT OFF” kind.
For the past several years I have been writing novels and reading lots and lots of craft books. And I’ve been trying to make sure that my main characters don’t get things too easily, because I’ve been told, and believe, that you need conflict. Obstacles. Unexpected twists. Characters who want the opposite of what your main character wants.
Think of everything poor Sandra had to go through to get back to Earth in Gravity. Imagine what that movie would have been like if Sandra and George Clooney had just shrugged after their space station was wrecked, hopped right on the nearest Chinese shuttle, and headed home with no further issues.
Now let me be clear: I’m really not a fan of people who brandish the latest craft book and insist that your story must follow that book’s formula to the letter or else it’s trash. That’s annoying too, and it can lead to stories that are oddly predictable in their attempts to be twisty and surprising. “Ah, yes, here’s the Black Moment, which means that the Hey Wait, It’s A Ray of Hope moment is about a chapter or two away…”
That being said, someone on the Ocean’s 8 writing team might have wanted to have a look at one of these books. “An Ocean movie but with women instead of men” is not a complete plot. And all these amazing performers deserved better.