Recently, I watched a few films within a short span of time that I realized shared a similar theme: women fighting back. Whether it’s planning an elaborate heist, protecting their children or taking revenge on their aggressors, these female-led films feature intelligent and capable women on a mission.
“Ocean’s 8”: 3.5 out of 5 stars. In theaters.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but stealing them requires an organized group of women with particular skills. The female-fronted heist caper “Ocean’s 8” sparkles, putting a new twist on the “Ocean’s 11” film series. The enjoyable spin-off introduces a resourceful team of strong-willed women while maintaining the spirit and panache of the franchise.
Sandra Bullock calls the shots as Debbie Ocean, the ambitious and determined sister of con artist Danny Ocean (George Clooney in 2001’s “Ocean’s 11” and its two sequels). Released after five years in prison, Debbie seeks out her partner-in-crime, the no-nonsense Lou (Cate Blanchett), to conduct an elaborate heist she has been planning behind bars: stealing jewels from the annual Met Gala in New York.
To carry out the job, the duo put together a crew of eight: washed-up designer Rose (Helena Bonham-Carter), unsatisfied jewelry maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), close-to-the-vest hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), sly pit-pocket Constance (Awkwafina), thief-turned-mother Tammy (Sarah Paulson) and unwitting actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway).
“Ocean’s 8” is a breezy romp steeped in glamour, from the sparkling diamonds to the couture gowns to celebrity cameos. With unique camera angles and creative scene transitions, director Gary Ross channels the style of Steven Sonderbergh, who helmed the three previous films and returns as producer. The spin-off is better than the convoluted “Ocean’s 12” and just-OK “Ocean’s 13.”
The high-profile Met Gala provides the perfect setting for the caper. The pomp and circumstance distracts from the heist going on under everyone’s noses. The film knows when to kick up the tension as the crew encounters snags in the plan. The clever story stays a step ahead of the audience, with some surprises in store.
Bullock and Blanchett lead a diverse female ensemble brimming with strong performances. The pair have a great chemistry reminiscent of Clooney and Brad Pitt in the first three films. But the two take a backseat during the second act, depriving the audience of seeing more of their camaraderie in action.
The film showcases each woman’s skillset and what they contribute to the team. The vibrant Hathaway shines in a standout role that highlights her penchant for comedy. The awkward yet endearing Bonham-Carter carries some fun scenes. However, with so many characters, there’s not enough character development to go around. Awkwafina and Kaling aren’t given much to do here.
As fabulous as it is fun, “Ocean’s 8” polishes up the “Ocean’s 11” franchise. Here’s hoping we see more heists with Debbie Ocean and her crew.
“Breaking In”: 2.5 stars. In theaters.
A memorable performance by Gabrielle Union lifts “Breaking In,” an otherwise standard home invasion thriller that feels more suited for Lifetime than the big screen.
Union plays Shaun, a mother of two (Ajiona Alexus and Seth Carr) who returns to her estranged father’s mansion after his untimely death. Her father, who was involved in criminal activities, fortified the home with an advanced security system. But Shaun is thrown for a loop when four burglars – led by mastermind Billy Burke – break in, separating her from her children.
The actioner delivers solid thrills, stretching the tension as Shaun tries to outwit the criminals, infiltrate the mansion and protect her family. Union is more than up to the challenge in a role that requires a lot of physicality. It’s refreshing to see a character in her position make good decisions.
But for as smart as Shaun is, the burglars are pretty dumb. James McTeigue’s generic direction does little to make the film pop. The story takes place at night, making the outside action hard to distinguish.
“Breaking In” shows Union has the chops to take on the action genre, but the talented actress deserves a better showcase.
“Revenge”: 4 stars. Streaming on Google Play.
Bloody, brutal and beautiful, “Revenge” knocks down, twists and subverts the revenge genre film. First-time director Coralie Fargeat forges a stylish, ultraviolent thriller with a feminist slant.
The story follows Jen (an outstanding Matilda Lutz), a fun-loving Lolita-type having an affair with married businessman Richard (Kevin Janssen). When Richard takes Jen to his hideaway in the dessert, their rendezvous is interrupted when his two friends (Vincent Colombe and Guillaume Bouchède) arrive early for a hunting trip. What starts as a lovers’ getaway devolves into horror as Jen is raped and left for dead. But while the three men try to cover up the crime, Jen turns the tables on her tormenters.
The gorgeously shot “Revenge” follows the drastic transformation of Jen from a pink-wearing socialite to a reborn warrior. Even her hair color changes as Jen must rely on her untapped wiles to survive at all costs. Lutz gives a powerful performance in a highly physical and grueling role. The hunters become the hunted as Jen uses all the tools at her disposal, spilling a lot of blood in the process. Some scenes are not for the squeamish.
The film flips the male gaze genre trope. The camera gives equal time in its lingering glances of men as it does women. The rape itself is carefully filmed in a way that reveals the act’s terror without exploiting it.
“Revenge” can be a bit too on the nose, using blatant imagery of a phoenix to drive home the point of Jen’s rebirth. The film also asks viewers to suspend disbelief in how its characters are able to survive various circumstances.
An intense experience, “Revenge” marks an impressive debut from a daring director.