The king is dead, long live the queen. With the apparent demise of George Clooney’s smug, square-chinned Danny Ocean, kid sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock) has taken up the family mantle of thievery, having cooked up the perfect jewel heist while locked in a state penitentiary for the past five years. There’s double-crosses, jobs within jobs, slick montages, and a brand new bag of femme fatales to get to know but Ocean’s 8 is very much an offshoot of the popular rebooted franchise brought to life in the early 2000’s.
Joining Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Awkwafina, and Sarah Paulson round out this all-female spin on the high-society caper, each bringing their own particular set of skills to the table. The film does a decent job of characterizing these impressive ladies but at a girdled 110 minutes, it does feel like some of the characters are never fully fleshed out. Where Clooney’s version felt like it luxuriated more in both the heist and character development, Ocean’s 8 can feel hurried and sparse on relationship building.
Outside of Bullock, only the seasoned Blanchett feels like more than a secondary character, her Lou still an underwritten anti-hero but Blanchett’s raw on-screen cool makes for a character you’ll cheer for regardless of whether she’s just serving up late-night kebabs or dressed to kill on the red carpet. The other standout is Awkwafina’s sleight of hand mistress Constance, a street-tongued delicacy in too short supply. Meanwhile, players like Rihanna’s Nine Ball are slight and can be tasteless – she’s a pot-smoking hacker guru with Rasta dreads but there’s little more to report about her as a character. Debbie Ocean’s band of misfit criminals though remains the lifeblood of the film, their easy chemistry and boundless charm supplying a fun-filled buoyancy to the proceedings. Even as the heist fails to pull one over on the audience, and certain reveals and tricks seem wildly convenient, and plot holes pile up like a highway wreck, the film gets away easy on the sheer watchability of its badass band of bitches.
The trouble remains that despite the fresh angle, Ocean’s 8 feels like a diluted version of what came before it. Rather than switching up the drink order, this new take is watered down vodka, when it should have been tequila. Ocean’s 8 is like going back to your favorite watering hole after it’s been taken over by new management – the window dressings have changed but the bones remain intact. And that works both to the film’s advantage and its detriment.
Behind the camera, Gary Ross lacks the oomph and pizzaz of a filmmaker like Steven Soderbergh who elevated the pulpy, paperback caper trappings to an art form with choice camera angles, dazzling cinematography, and snappy jigsaw storytelling. Unlike his predecessor, Ross never shifts to the next gear, offering a bodega-version of Soderbergh’s flashy scam artistry that pales in comparison on most levels. It’s the same jazzy pulse played by competent musicians but lacks a notable conductor. Why the move to an all-female cast couldn’t also find room for an emerging female director, one with something to prove, remains a decision beyond me.
It seems that what lacks most is a governing principle – a lack of commitment to the overarching ideal of a girl power heist movie. At one point in the film, Debbie comments that she doesn’t want any men on her crew because “Men get noticed, women don’t.” While this doubles as commentary on the power structure of the predominantly male film industry, it functions as a sort of self-critique as well.
In the original series, Danny firmly believed that a heist is only worthwhile if the mark is truly deserving of comeuppance and this being a story about stealing back power and agency from men, Ocean’s 8 misses the mark by not taking true aim at a deserving mark. And by giving the reigns over to an old guard male has-been with a relatively stale sense of direction, it sacrifices that fire of feminist rebirth in the process.
CONCLUSION: Entertainingly fluffy but problematic when you dig beneath the surface, Gary Ross’ ‘Ocean’s 8’ puts an all-women spin on the upscale heist series but misses the mark of genuine feminist reinvention by forklifting in a sour boyfriend subplot and giving the director’s chair over to an old white dude.