Gary Ross, 110 mins, starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard Armitage. Elliott Gould
Two competing instincts risk derailing Ocean’s 8, the breezy and silly Ocean’s Eleven spin-off with an all-female crew pulling off the robbery. On the one hand, the filmmakers want the story to move along at breakneck pace.
This is a heist movie, after all, and every second counts. On the other, they can’t resist stopping the action to accommodate a bewildering number of pointless celebrity cameos and moments of conspicuous consumption. (Do we really need to see Anna Wintour, Kendall Jenner, Maria Sharapova and her arch-rival, Serena Williams, popping in front of the camera, and do the filmmakers have to name check the Cartier jewellery quite so often?)
Sandra Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean, the cheerily amoral sister of Danny Ocean (the George Clooney character in the earlier films.) Thieving runs in the family. She has been languishing behind bars for precisely five years, eight months and 12 days. Debbie pretends to the prison officers that she is a reformed character who now wants to lead the “simple life”.
The moment she is released, she puts the high heels straight back on, embarks on an ingenious shoplifting spree and begins to put together the crew for her biggest job yet. This is to steal the $150m “Toussaint” necklace at the Met Gala in New York.
The film struggles to explain just why Debbie wants to pull off such a job. Her motives seem very mixed. It’s the thrill of it all and the camaraderie. This is a formal challenge, akin to solving a particularly difficult sudoku puzzle. It’s also a way of getting back at her treacherous ex-boyfriend Claude (Richard Armitage), while showing that anything Danny can do she can do better.
Debbie’s most trusted lieutenant is Lou (Cate Blanchett), a biker chick who runs scams involving watered down vodka. (It’s hinted very obliquely that their relationship may once have stretched to more than just business.)
Together, they recruit their team: dotty, cash-strapped Irish designer Rose (the latest in Helena Bonham-Carter’s long line of screen eccentrics); ace jewellery cutter Amita (Mindy Kaling); artful pickpocket and street hustler Constance (Awkwafina); middle-class mom and fencer of stolen goods, Tammy (Sarah Paulson), and virtuoso computer hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna).
These are wild women but their love lives are remarkably tame. The film simply doesn’t bother with romantic sub plots. The men in the film are a dubious bunch anyway: sleazy types like Claude, earnest art dealers and security experts or, worst of all, the inanely grinning insurance investigator, John Frazier (James Corden).
We’ve had dozens of buddy movies telling similar stories, in which the female characters are treated as an after thought. It is fitting in the #MeToo era that Ocean’s 8 redresses the balance and relegates the males deep down into the supporting cast.
Only one protagonist appears to have an active sex life. This is the ultra-narcissistic movie star, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), who will be wearing the Toussaint diamonds at the gala. At one stage, after spending the night with him, she leaves Claude handcuffed to the bed, as if he is a toy she is now ready to discard. She is the most flamboyant figure in the film and also the single character who surprises us.
The others behave exactly as we predict they will. They’re a straitlaced bunch. Debbie enjoys luxury and likes her designer clothing and bubble baths in five star hotels. Her crew members don’t have any particular vices beyond thieving. They don’t drink or take drugs. They don’t argue among themselves either. As a result, the film is completely lacking in any dramatic tension beyond whether or not they’ll carry out the heist.
“If there is one thing I know, it is bad acting,” Daphne exclaims when one of the women makes a crude attempt to con her. Thankfully, this isn’t generally a problem with the film. Bullock is congenial and laidback as the team leader, albeit with a cynical edge. The other thieves all get their moments to show off their comic skills.
We see a distraught Bonham-Carter gorging herself on a jar of Nutella, Rihanna serving up a kebab, and Awkwafina showing off her powers of prestidigitation with the cards. The heist is as intricately planned as one might expect, even if a masterplan that depends on someone throwing up in the ladies loo does seem on the haphazard side.
Ocean’s 8 is intended as lighthearted escapism, but a little more satirical Ab Fab-style humour would surely have helped. The filmmakers have the perfect opportunity to send up the world of high art and high fashion and to poke fun at those absurdly extravagant charity galas. Instead, they celebrate this gilded world.
For no particular reason, we are shown close-ups of famous paintings in the Met collection (Van Gogh, Gauguin etc), alongside loving footage of the jewellery display and the beautiful people clamouring into the museum for the ball. Glamour is accentuated.
Director Gary Ross has made a film just as slick and as superficial as the earlier instalments of the Ocean’s franchise in which the men oversaw the grand thefts. Whether this qualifies Ocean’s 8 as groundbreaking or original is a moot point.
Ocean’s 8 hit UK cinemas 15 June
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