Director: Gary Ross
Screenplay: Gary Ross, Olivia Milch
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter
Runtime: 110 Minutes
If there’s a surprise to this gender-swapped rendition of the Ocean’s series, it’s that the actual labelling of it as a spin-off to the series feels rather perfunctory. While it follows the rhythms and beats of the original series and the original 1960 Rat Pack vehicle of the same name, there’s very little to be made of it beyond the lead character’s loose connections to certain characters seen in the Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's trilogy.
What the film ends up grooving on more than the elaborate plotting and staging of Soderbergh's films, wherein a group of thieves and technicians rob heavily guarded locations through intricate heists, is the formula of the original 1960 film in which the plot largely serves as a stage for the stars to mingle and show off their respected attributes as performers.
So, in that regard, the film pretty much works for what it was intended. This time the plot follows a group of women, led by Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the estranged sister of Danny Ocean, who plan on robbing the Met Gala for a $150 million Cartier necklace worn by dim-witted and snobby actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway).
The series has never really leaned into theme before and doesn’t serve much other function than an excuse to allow these actresses to work onscreen together and play up to type. Pretty much the whole cast of leading ladies acquit themselves well by playing up to their own archetypal positions and traits, with some minor variations.
For instance, seeing Bullock underplay her usual comedic schtick and letting Cate Blanchett rock about on camera as a hard-headed partner in crime is a riot as Blanchett effortlessly pulls off every sumptuous costume she wears in a way that’ll make you question whether or you’ve been wearing clothes right this whole time.
Mindy Kaling makes for a good jewellery maker, Awkwafina and Rihanna both continue to show range as a hustler and technical support, Sarah Paulson is rather excellent as a profiteer turned suburban mom, and Helena Bonham Carter basically plays the Helena Bonham Carter role as a debt-ridden and disgraced fashion designer. But the secret weapon still feels like Anne Hathaway as she hilariously plays up her own celebrity persona as the most expressive and surprising character.
Unfortunately, while the initial high of the sensation is rather giddying following an impressive sequence in which a newly released Debbie swindles her way into hotel rooms and steals her way back into business, as soon as the actual plot begins to move the complete lack of energy being brought to it by director Gary Ross starts to show.
So much of why the former trilogy worked was down to Soderbergh's dynamic manners of shooting and editing, and Ross’s sense of style beyond the fashionable icons before the camera does nothing to elevate the action. There’s actually very little suspense to be found in the heist itself as it plays out so small and contained and with such efficiency, and its hard to be further engaged with characters who aren’t fleshed out enough with stakes that don’t feel that high, even in the face of the formula.
Much of this is made more frustrating thanks to the customary twists of the narrative, but which land here with an overly obvious thud as the film drags its heels for the final half hour in wrapping up the loose ends. So much so that as James Corden turns up, mugging his way through way too much screen time as an insurance fraud investigator, it feels like it should have closed quicker and on a higher note than it does.
Ocean's 8 isn’t a bad film at all, the characters are too well played and fun to be around to dismiss it entirely. It feels like a missed opportunity by a director who doesn’t know what to do with the material or his cast, but it works in the moment and dresses itself well enough that even the flippancy of it kind of works in its favour.