Director: Gary Ross Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Awkafina, Rihanna, Anne Hathaway, James Corden Running Time: 110 minutes
Like its older brother Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 8 opens with a parole hearing. Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, a sibling to Clooney, is asked what she’s planning to do on the outside. Cue the knowing look and the game is afoot. This entry to the breezy Ocean’s series has flown in under the radar of RUINED FOREVER faux-outrage fans, possibly because the trilogy of the late 90s-early 00s never had that kind of devoted nerd following, possibly because the too-cool-for-school affect of Clooney, Pitt and the rest of the eleven were too confident and comfortable in their own skins for a certain kind of viewer to latch onto, internalise and toxify. Freed from the burden of fandom expectations and political sandbags, Ocean’s 11 delivers pretty much the same thing as it’s histaff counterpart: beautiful movie stars hanging out and quipping in a beautiful location, the kind of no-fuss, no muss mid-range movie we could do with more of.
As it happens, Debbie knows exactly what she wants to do when she gets out. Immediately she launches into a plan she spent a considerable amount of time plotting in prison. She wants to steal a $15o million necklace from Cartier called the Toussaint. And if she happens to get one over on the creep who sold her out and landed her in jail in the midst of the caper, what’s the harm? Assisting in this endeavour is a team of master criminals, all women all-stars. Cate Blanchett is Lou, Debbie’s former partner-in-crime who exudes that particular kind of energy you’ve been reading so much about on social media lately. Sporting an Irish accent that varies wildly both in quality and region depending on the dialogue is Helena Bonham Carter as Rose Weil, a fashion designer in the doghouse both of the fashion world and the IRS. Mindy Kaling is plays Amita, a jewelry expert eager to get out from under the foot of her mother, while New York rapper Awkwafina plays a loudmouthed pickpocket happy to step up from stealing wristwatches. Rihanna is the team’s hacker (of the most movie-like “I’m in” variety) 9-Ball, highly skilled even as she seems too laid-back (“she’s smoking!” declares Bullock in her extremely Blind Side voice). Sarah Poulsen plays Tammy, a suburban mom who can’t resist the life of a fence. And unwittingly rounding out the players in the plot is Anne Hathaway as the self-involved actress Daphne Kluger. Unawares to Kluger she is acting at the 8’s mule, her celebrity and status as host of the Met Gala letting her get the Toussaint out of the Cartier vault, into the New York Met and onto her neck to accessorise Rose Weil’s dress, stealing from a ditsy Hollywood actress proving an easier feat than doing so from an underground vault. Hathaway’s performance is on the higher end of the series tradition of Hollywood inside-jokes, it doesn’t get as on-the-nose as anyone saying she looks “just like Anne Hathaway”, but she’s playing well on public perception of her as a histrionic, melodramatic airhead who’s an unknowing accessory to massive fraud…
Cast chemistry is the main selling-point of Ocean’s 8 and it’s happy to indulge in that, getting most of its leads into Lou’s loft and letting them hang out and plot crimes together. It’s a film that’s going for a chill party vibe as much as anything, it’s central crime a cool story that hits most of the requisite beats of a good movie heist: clever but not confusing, throwing spanners in the works without getting too serious, as entertaining to watch the characters talk about as it is to watch them do. While a film like the Ghostbusters reboot faced so much backlash that it almost had to address the sexist elephant in the room, Ocean‘s confidently goes about its business, it knows exactly what kind of viewer wants to watch Cate Blanchett chill in designer suits, or watch a diverse pairing of comedian and rapper exchange Tinder advice, and it gives them what they want. Rihanna’s character isn’t complex, she’s just Rihanna, but look, people like Rihanna. If there’s a dip in proceedings, it probably comes from James Corden. Introduced two-thirds of the way through as an insurance fraud investigator, Corden, a limited actor who’s ‘star power’ isn’t really needed amongst this cast, lets a little bit of the air out of the room, replacing it with his own, hotter variety, yammering away as always.
Sure there isn’t much conflict in the film, but how much does it really need? The strongest parts of Ocean’s 11 certainly weren’t Danny Ocean pining over his estranged wife Tess, they were cool cats wearing cool clothes carrying out a cool scheme. There is something to be said for a movie coasting on star power, and though this film stays more or less in coasting mode throughout, it stays entertaining, doesn’t carry any baggage and gets out while the audience are still onside. Director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) isn’t a noted visual stylist, most of the flourishes here being faint Soderbergh echoes, but the heist flows seamlessly to the audience eye, always keeping them in on what’s happening. Without being too Happy Meal toy about it, this gender-swap film benefits from its gender-swap beyond the superficial level. Danny Ocean’s revenge was a macho move, he wanted to make money yes but his main desire was making sure he blackened Andy Garcia’s eye in the process, a need to reassert himself after the casino-owner “took” someone that “belonged” to him. For Debbie in the end, the best (not only) revenge is living well, and it’s a fun ride watching her get there.(3 / 5)