“You’re not doing this for me. You’re not doing this for you. Somewhere out there, there’s a ten year old girl lying in bed, dreaming of becoming a criminal. Do it for her.”
Debbie Ocean is released after five years in prison and begins planning a large scale jewellery heist. She initially enlists six accomplices: her old partner Lou (Cate Blanchett), a hacker (Rihanna), a jewellery maker (Mindy Kaling), a pickpocket (Awkwafina), a black marketer (Sarah Paulson) and a fashion designer (Helena Bonham Carter). Together they plan to steal a 150 million dollar necklace from seemingly vacuous celebrity, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway).
The film has a great many of the strengths of the previous Ocean’s films, but unfortunately many of the same faults. Debbie and Lou are the stand-ins for George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s characters, and like them they are the least interesting characters in the film. Bullock and Blanchett have undeniable charisma but there’s nothing more to them than the swagger and near unfaltering competence. I’d like to have seen more of how Ocean’s long prison stretch had changed her, as well as more about what it’s like to be a part of a family of criminals.
Where Ocean’s 8 really excels (even over its predecessors) is in the rest of the crew. Awkwafina is an energetic street hustler whose first scene is somewhat unmatched for charm by the rest of the film. Rihanna is convincing as the no-nonsense hacker and Helena Bonham Carter brings lively angst to her once-great fashion designer (even if her Irish accent is a little inconsistent). The team is fun, and work well together. I’d have valued more preparation scenes with these characters bouncing off each other, and I would have killed for even a whiff of tension between any two of them. Anne Hathaway also offers a very entertaining parody of self-obsessed celebrity, recalling Elizabeth Olsen’s work in Ingrid Goes West last year.
This is, of course, an all-female entry into the franchise and the value of that shouldn’t be underestimated. Representation matters and this is a film about seven (maybe eight) strong female characters who are the best at what they do and are never required to prove themselves. Seeing these women take on the world and succeed does feel empowering.
The Soderberg led Ocean’s films were never really interesting because of their characters, but because of the intricately designed heists. In this respect the film starts promisingly. Once Ocean has left prison she quickly scams her way into some nice clothes, expensive make up and a luxury hotel suite overlooking the park. She attains all of these things with clever confidence tricks. It’s entertaining to see her hustles paying off. The preparation for the heist unfolds with mischievousness characteristic of the franchise. Elements are introduced and challenges are met but the audience is largely kept in the dark as to the overall plan. None of these elements are quite as beguiling as Riley Keough’s painted mice from Soderberg’s Logan Lucky, but it’s entertaining nevertheless.
The actual heist itself is a bit disappointing. The plan mostly boils down to misdirection and then grabbing things whilst backs are turned. There’s also a frustrating lack of tension. I’d be interested to measure the time from the arrival of an obstacle to its resolution. I’d estimate this would average at around two minutes. The plan unfolds without a hitch which would be a lot more entertaining if the plan were cleverer.
For example, the jewels have been placed on a dinner plate which is amongst a stack of washing up. A bellboy who is not in on the plan is taking it to the kitchen, where the jewellery maker is waiting to intercept. Suddenly the bellboy stops to talk to his friend and the stack of dishes containing the incredibly expensive necklace is just idling in a hallway. They need to start disassembling the necklace before security notice that Kluger is no longer wearing it. Rihanna notices this on the security camera she’s hacked and so Paulson is sent in to hurry them along, which she does. The sequence lasts barely a minute and is indicative of how the film handles setbacks. Sequences like this must be given time to breathe, but director Gary Ross is just a little too concerned with moving on to the next part of the plan.
This is particularly disappointing as Helena Bonham Carter’s character is twice shown to be excellent at improvising. Her reaction to the reveal that the necklace can only be removed via a special magnetic key is very clever and well-acted by Carter. During the actual heist her character does very little. Ultimately, stealing one necklace off of one woman might just be a little too small scale to warrant the participation of eight incredibly gifted thieves.
For better and worse, Ocean’s 8 is an Ocean’s movie. It certainly counts as one of the franchise’s best entries, but it’s a shame that more isn’t done with such a fun and competent cast. The heist itself isn’t as playfully crazy as previous entries, and it’s not as tense as a good heist movie should be. It is however a very fun and stylish, if unchallenging, thriller.
3 / 5