There are some films that no matter how much I enjoy them I inevitably struggle in how to write a review on it. A more experienced critic would find no issue but alas this fledgling ‘critic’ has been beaten on more than one occasion, and so it goes again with Ocean’s Eight. An all female version of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films, starring a veritable who’s who of the top women actors working today; Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Kylie Jenner (oh wait that last one less so..and never fear it is just a cameo) etc. So rather than try and construct a review featuring a pained structure I’ll just keep it simple (a bit like the heist at the centre of this tale), here are the 8 things you need to know before watching Ocean’s Eight:
- Rather than an all female reboot this is actually a continuation, Ocean’s Eight centres on Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, sister of George Clooney’s now deceased Danny Ocean. Incarcerated for a number of years, she uses the time to plot a heist which will set her up for life, but to action it she’s going to need some help.
- The rest of the crew is made up of the usual archetypes you’d expect if you’ve seen any of the previous films. Blanchett is utterly wasted as Debbie’s number two, clearly having fun but given no deeper motivations and completely left out come the actual heist (seriously someone please tell me what her role is besides providing the team some nice digs). Then we have the tech wizard (Rihanna given a decently charismatic performance) the fencer (Mindy Kaling’s diamond wiz, who never quite gets the material to show off her keen comedic skills), the one who has turned their back on it all but in reality still can’t escape (Sarah Paulson-lovable) and the list goes on. Similar to Soderbergh’s crew there is little in the way of deeper complexities to these people but the chemistry is strong, the character traits efficiently set out and everyone looks to be having a blast which is infectious.
- The script is flat. Director Gary Ross and Olivia Milch team up on the words but it never has the same witty intellect as Clooney’s first go round. There are some killer lines (Bullock’s “do it for the little girls who dream of being criminals” speech is a nice flip of convention) yet very little in the way of sparks to really get you laughing. The strongest stuff is saved for Awkwafina as a street wise pick pocket, blessed with a dryly eccentric comic timing.
- Most egregious is that the heist itself is a pretty simplistic endeavour. Sneak into the MET gala via Anne Hathaway’s prissy celebrity, steal some priceless jewels, then escape. The build up is nicely done, but, outside of one fairly obvious twist, nothing is kept hidden from the audience. No moment when it all comes together and you go “aha” like in the first’s dummy vault reveal. It certainly doesn’t help that most of the heist is utilised using technological nonsense, such as the world’s most amazing 3D printer, which feel more like screenwriting cheats than believable grace notes.
- There is such little dramatic tension that the film just sort of sits there relying on its stars to bring the fun. I challenge any of you to find one moment where it genuinely felt as if things could go wrong. Sure there are a couple of quick setbacks but they’re soon resolved. James Corden does show up as an insurance investigator on the girls’ trail, but even he feels like a minor inconvenience not a real threat, despite Corden’s jovial and sardonic performance (the first time I’ve ever really enjoyed him in anything). Heist films always need a sense of dramatic momentum, stakes that feel challenging to the team planning it all, Ocean’s Eight has none of that.
- Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) gives the film a nice touch of glamour, as to be expected with the setting, and allows his stars to take charge never overshadowing them with directorial tricks. Alas though I do miss the flair that Steven Soderbergh brought to the table. There was a smoothness to his editorial flow that is sorely lacking here. Ocean’s 8 never doing enough to stay memorable, apart from the chance to give the talented women the spotlight. Ross wisely never frames them from a male POV, allowing them to be sensual without being sexualised and using the men in their lives, not as obvious romantic targets, but as objects they can use and manipulate at will. However you can’t help but wonder what a female directorial gaze would have brought to the table.
- The women make the film. Despite all my negativity Ocean’s Eight is a huge amount of fun. Its female cast are by far and away the best thing about it, giving sharply charismatic performances whilst bouncing off each other nicely. Come the moment of the inevitable montage of the team strolling towards camera, glamorous and “These Boots are made for Walkin” booming out, you’ll likely have a big smile on your face. If that was its main goal then mission accomplished.
- Seriously what was Cate Blanchett’s role in the heist? Why was she there!??
Verdict: A light concoction that moves with pace and features a talented ensemble but they cannot completely elevate a film with no dramatic stakes.