The beauty of Ocean’s 8 lies less in director Gary Ross’ unspectacular execution than in the sturdy foundation of its near-perfect premise.
The beauty of Ocean’s 8 lies less in director Gary Ross’ unspectacular execution than in the sturdy foundation of its near-perfect premise. On paper, an all-female Ocean’s 11 spin-off featuring an all-star cast pulling a jewel heist at the Met Gala is too ideal to easily fuck up. So, it’s no surprise that the movie is a fun time, even if it’s otherwise an unexceptional film.
Unlike the contentious climate surrounding the release of the all-female Ghostbusters reboot from 2016, the discourse has shifted somewhat. On the heels of the #MeToo movement and the fight for gender parity becoming more vocal within the industry, the marketplace is salivating for a project that is at once smart counterprogramming to the summer slate of superhero films as well as a much-needed win for women at large. The prestige heist film is the perfect vehicle to stage such a spectacle of performative comeuppance.
The Ocean’s trilogy, itself a remake of an old Rat Pack flick, isn’t like Star Wars or Ghostbusters, filled with ravenous fanboys inflicting their jaundiced opinions against diversity upon the masses. The franchise has always been marketed as a slick, crowd-pleasing pastime for actual adults, so giving the gals a try after three straight movies of George Clooney and Brad Pitt standing around in nice suits isn’t exactly a daring creative decision. It also helps that this isn’t a remake or a reboot, but an ancillary offshoot taking place in a separate corner of the same world.
Sandra Bullock leads the ensemble as Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie, with the film opening like its predecessor as she gets out of jail and puts together a team to plan a heist. Cate Blanchett fills the Pitt role as Debbie’s partner-in-crime, Lou. Their dynamic is very similar to Danny and Rusty’s, with the mastermind executing a pitch-perfect plan and their lieutenant reminding them not to make it personal. For Danny, it was about winning back his old flame, but for Debbie, it’s about burning the ex (Richard Armitage) who got her locked up in the first place.
One would assume having three fewer principle characters in the criminal crew would mean that every member would be appropriately more fleshed-out than their male counterparts in the former trilogy, but that’s not quite the case. Debbie, Lou and unwitting participant Daphne Kluger (an actress played by Anne Hathaway as a parody of herself) each get solid screen-time, as does Sarah Paulson as Tammy, a suburban mom scammer/fence, but the rest get the same short shrift the Casey Afflecks of the world got the last time around. That’s not an issue for someone like Awkwafina, whose pickpocket Constance would probably grow tiresome with more focus, but it’s hard not to feel like Rihanna doesn’t have enough to do as hacker Nine Ball (outside of a very sweet social-engineering sequence involving puppies).
But no one comes to these movies for the character development. It’s for the chemistry between the players (there’s plenty) and for the joy of watching rich people get taken for all they’re worth. In those regards, Ocean’s 8 adds a touch of glamor and celebrity-event FOMO to its mixture of anti-capitalist fantasy, replacing the Vegas-bred casino sleaze with high-fashion, Hollywood gloss. It’s just unfortunate that the film isn’t helmed by Steven Soderbergh, but rather Gary Ross performing a passable, but ultimately maladroit impression of him.
While stylistically, there’s a lot of common ground between the way both men lensed their respective heist outings, it’s clear Ross is picking up on some of the basic, surface-level compositions and rhythms Soderbergh employed with little of the same verve or panache. The result is an altogether flatter, less daring feel, a film that talks the talk but can’t quite back it up visually. It’s not clumsy enough to detract from the charm of the cast or the perfunctory catharsis of seeing the “bad” guys get away, but it does hold the film back from being more than solid entertainment.
The script, co-written by Ross and filmmaker Olivia Milch, has some really sweet moments among its core cast that play well thanks to how likable and fun the actresses are together, but it structurally makes the final act feel leaden. Where Ocean’s 11 has an airtight structure, perfectly balancing the introduction of the cast, the preparation and the heist itself, Ocean’s 8 breezes through all of those arcs just to take extra time with exploring how they get away with it. There are some fun Easter eggs and a nice turn or two, but after the climax of a heist, just about the last thing anyone in the world wants to watch is James Corden trying to solve a mystery.
Luckily, this film should be successful enough to warrant an extension of the franchise, where they can add more diverse leading ladies (as with any kind of progression in Hollywood, “women first” really means “white women first”) and more sound storytelling. Despite this film’s minor flaws, there’s no reason an Ocean’s 9 and Ocean’s 10 shouldn’t be right around the corner.