Synopsis – Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City’s yearly Met Gala.
My Take – For some reason people always tend to root for criminals, especially when they are pulling off a heist, regardless of whether it turns out to be successful or not. I guess it’s just the sheer notion of watching a group of people flawlessly pull off something that most people would call it crazy to attempt, is quite entertaining for many reasons. For me, the Steven Soderbergh directed 2001 remake of the Rat Pack 1960 film, Ocean’s Eleven, holds a special place, mainly as it was the first time I was allowed to see a 15+ film that too which starred the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon among others.
While the film found huge success for being terrifically original, it’s 2004 and 2007 sequel, despite being good on their own, disappointingly fell short. With the recent controversial trend of rebooting major franchise traditionally populated by men, by women, this series is the latest to join the brigade, that too thankfully, without the same level of vitriolic hostility aimed at the all-female-reboot of Ghostbusters (which I personally really enjoyed). With the weight of the previous trilogy on its shoulders, the film had a lot to live up to after the tremendous success director Steven Soderbergh‘s film was, as the all-male original was filled with more charm and style than you could shake a stick at.
Luckily, when it comes to inbuilt glamour and star power, you couldn’t ask for a better cast here, as The Hunger Games director Gary Ross has ensembled here the likes of Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter. However, contrary to many of the negative reviews on IMDb, I actually found this film rather good. It had a good pace, kept me entertained and engaged the whole time, was clever, funny and distinguishes itself as a fun and fascinating heist film. Does it have problems? Sure, but not any more or less than in previous the films. The cast was well balanced, with Blanchett and Bullock having an especially great dynamic, along with Hathaway stealing the show.
The story follows Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the crook sister of the recently departed crook Danny Ocean (George Clooney), who is being released from prison after five years. While she has promised her parole board that is going to go straight and find herself a job, but it’s quite clear that she has another job in mind. During her years in solitary confinement Debbie devised the proofed scheme to rob the Met Gala in New York City, specifically, steal the $150 million dollar Trouisant necklace.
In order to do that she meets up with Lou (Cate Blanchett), her best friend and partner-in-crime, and almost immediately puts a team together, that consists of Nine Ball (Rihanna), a gifted hacker, Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a soccer mum who has a garage full of stolen goods; Constance (Awkwafina), a gifted pickpocket; Amita (Mindy Kaling), a jeweler with some mom issues, and Rose Weil (Helena Bonham-Carter), a fashion designer who has fallen out of favor and is heavily in debt to the IRS. With their target being Daphne Kruger (Anne Hathaway), an ego manic actress, who would be wearing the necklace during the annual gala ball. However, there is more to the heist than meets the eye, as Debbie has another plan in motion, which may be related to Claude (Richard Armitage), her ex-lover and shady art dealer, who got in her jail.
While this female-centric caper comedy is light weight stuff, it is also a lot of fun. Make no mistake, the film isn’t particularly ambitious, in either that goal or its execution. The writing has a few holes, and the film doesn’t come close to director Steven Soderbergh’s stylish work on 2001’s Ocean Eleven. But, if the ambition is to provide two hours of instantly forgettable, popcorn-munching escapism, it succeeds. With brief cameos for trilogy veterans Elliott Gould and Shaobo Qin, and barely another reference to Danny along with a framed photograph, this film touches lightly on its predecessors and manages to stand on its own. To its credit, it never pretends to be anything more than what it is: a breezy summer film with eight fun anti-heroines worth rooting for. I never knew that one of the things I wanted most in my short life was to see Cate Blanchett in a sparkly emerald jumpsuit, nor did I know that I wanted to assemble my own gang of quirky, attractive, thieves to rob luxury retail stores and exact revenge, they just make it look so fun and easy.
But what I love most about the Oceans films is that they are hangout films at the core, a place for a bunch of film stars to riff on each other and generally have a good time. While the original Ocean’s 11 was considered basically an excuse for Frank Sinatra and his “rat pack” pals to hang around Las Vegas and make a film. It’s 2001 remake was also considered as an excuse for George Clooney and his pals to hang around a film set and have a bit of fun, this one too is basically just another excuse for a stellar ensemble of actresses to hang around, wear gorgeous costumes and have a bit of fun and they obviously enjoyed themselves here. This is something that the film, co-written by Ross with up-and-coming screenwriter Olivia Milch, gets and succeeds at incredibly. The writers also address the heist team being all-female only once, with a satisfying little wink to the audience during the team selection scene. Lou suggests recruiting a man and Debbie delivers what is probably my favorite line in the whole film; “A ‘him’ gets noticed, a ‘her’ gets ignored, and for once we want to be ignored.” I’m relieved the writers only address the team’s gender briefly. I was afraid it could be made a recurring, patronizing gimmick, as if they are pulling off a heist despite their gender.
But thankfully that’s not the case; the characters are bomb-ass, professional cons and their gender doesn’t matter. An area that I feel like a lot of people are going to latch onto is the direction. Sure, Gary Ross is a competent director who has his share of good films, but when the director one is following up is none other than Steven Soderbergh, it’s going to be hard to stack up. As a result, Ross goes for direction that is inspired by Soderbergh—crisp and clear wide, camera movements that glide along with the character in focus, montages bridged by fun little editing tricks—but not entirely beholden to the kind of semi-experimental things he often does, even in his most mainstream fare.
Some of it feels a little rote, and director Ross’s workmanlike nature often threatens to work against the film, but after two films littered with mediocre handheld camerawork, director Ross’s restraint in that category for this film is downright admirable and refreshing. It also helps that Ross’s director of photography, Eigil Bryld, does an absolutely fabulous job on the film, with the Met Gala scenes especially shining in regards to the quality of the lighting. Like any good heist film, the story has a riveting series of twists and turns as the criminal try to outwit every obstacle and security measure. It never goes seamlessly to plan, but unfortunately the curve balls here were far too easily solved for my liking.
Part of the fun of heist films is watching the crooks think on their feet to resolve impossible situations, and the strife was lacking in this one. But here, each obstacle they face is handled deftly and quickly, to the point where our rogues never feel like they could be in trouble or face any consequences for what they’ve done. It makes the heist, and by extension the film, feel so light it might just float away, draped in a stylish gown. What the film lacks is a real sense of peril. In portraying its cast as the most competent women in the business, they become too competent, and can do little wrong. The film lacks a dangerous energy that you would imagine is part of a grand heist. More disasters and narrow escapes would have allowed the stars to better develop their characters and relationships – instead, the film sometimes falls into a business-like expounding of each step in the occasionally plot hole-affected plan.
But like I said before, what I’m looking for in an Ocean’s film in 2018 isn’t great writing or eye-popping cinematography or experimental storytelling; I want to see some great actresses having the most fun. This film has something that the other Ocean’s films did not have: the freshness of an all-female primary cast, and it has something else that even other films with all-women casts, especially those that come out of Hollywood and are intended for mainstream entertainment, mostly do not know how to cope with, this one is very much about women and things that many women like, for example, fashion, jewelry, revenge against men who’ve wronged them, that too without ever demeaning them, or ridiculing their interests.
The film, at its most endearing, is a slick, glamorous romp that makes you yearn for three more hours with its impossibly charismatic crew, because watching these actresses hanging out together is that fun. Led by Sandra Bullock, who manages to embrace her role as his younger sister and proves to be a more than worthy addition to the Ocean family. Cate Blanchett is a dynamite watch in her true film star performance, and it may be one the best she’s ever been. Here, Bullock and Blanchett give a whole new meaning to the term ‘partner in crime’. They could teach classes on the history and chemistry that they’ve created between their characters. Who – and what – are Debbie and Lou to each other? How did they meet, and what have they been through? There’s certainly more heat and flirty sexual tension (whether it’s resolved or unresolved is up for debate) between them.
While Bullock and Blanchett get the meat of the script to work with, surprisingly it’s Anne Hathaway who slinks off with the entire film, in part because she gets to play a glamorous, soulless simulacrum of herself. Which is a remarkable feat considering that she’s sharing the screen with a host of accomplished scene stealers. She is dynamite as Daphne, playing the ego and irony, monster and sweetheart, of her role in a fireworks display of comic energy. In supporting roles, Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina are delightful as the comic relief of the crew, while Sarah Paulson and Helena Bonham Carter also manage to make their mark. As for Rihanna, her screen time is unsurprisingly limited and her role understated, but the star power inherent in her presence cannot be denied. Richard Armitage is also sensationally hideous. James Corden too isn’t bumbling or silly like his other films, here he gives in a great nuanced performance. On top of the already star-studded main cast, the film is packed with cameos like Dakota Fanning. A long list of celebs including Olivia Munn, Katie Holmes, Heidi Klum and Kim Kardashian play themselves attending the Met Gala, while others have character cameos. On the whole, ‘Ocean’s 8‘ is a breezy, occasionally witty, fun watch which despite some flaws is worth a watch for its great cast.
Directed – Gary Ross
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 110 minutes