Director: Gary Ross
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway
It’s highly possible I’m looking in the wrong (or right) places, but it seems as though the manchild brigade who so thoroughly soiled their nappies over Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters haven’t had much to say about the arrival of Ocean’s Eight. Maybe they’re all still too busy getting in a mystifying snit over The Last Jedi? I’m not sure. The point is, Gary Ross’ all-female follow-up to Soderbergh’s 00’s run of heist movies hasn’t drawn the kind of ire past gender switcheroos have.
If anything the question Ocean’s Eight poses in the current social climate is… why is Gary Ross in charge of this thing at all? He’s a capable director, sure, one who even brushes greatness on occasion (as anyone who’s seen Pleasantville will fervently tell you). But given the exceptional cast that’s been corralled for this outing, might the film’s producers have gone that final yard and hired a female director? They’re out there, I assure you. And they’re eager.
Well, nevermind. Here we are. One assumes Ross held on to duties at the helm because, well, this is his story (with screenwriting assistance from Olivia Milch). It’s eleven years since we checked in with a member of the Ocean family. We learn quickly that dear ol’ Danny has passed on (or has he?), shifting focus to his sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock). In a straight-up echo of Soderbergh’s first in the series, she’s fresh out of prison and putting a job together, one that’ll bring a massive return and also settle a longstanding vendetta. She’ll just need help.
Bullock’s celebrity and old-fashioned style is akin to Clooney’s, so the casting makes some sense. Nevertheless, she’s never quite as commanding as some of her associates. The Rightful Queen Of Earth™ Cate Blanchett is far more enjoyable as her right-hand woman Lou, and their relationship comes with just the right amount of suggestive subtlety. Props to costume designer Sarah Edwards for fashioning Blanchett with so many new outfits underlining her status as a gay icon.
Elsewhere Deb’s band of would-be jewel thieves are fleshed out by Sarah Paulson (at a stretch making this a quasi Carol reunion) as housewife and fence Tammy; Rihanna as reefer-smoking ‘hacker’ 9 Ball; Akwafina as on-point pickpocket Constance (a highlight); Mindy Kaling as jeweler Amita; and Helena Bonham Carter as off-the-wall fashion designer Rose Weil. Anyone keeping score will count seven. Who’s the eighth? Stay tuned to find out.
Deb’s ploy is to steal a diamond necklace worth a whopping $150 million from around the neck of superstar Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Ball. With so many famous faces making cameos come gala night, it’s a shame the movie isn’t a little ballsier, allowing Hathaway to play herself. It would’ve made for an entertaining send up of her celebrity. But I digress. The movie follows Deb’s attempt to (literally) pull this off with her assembled crew. Just as with Soderbergh’s 2001 film, there’s really little room for anything extraneous to this.
Where it differs, disappointingly, is the stakes. Deb sets up her plan, sets it in motion… and you watch it happen. She makes a great deal out of advising people just how long it took her to think it all up. Credit to her, then, because the gang comes up against minimal resistance. Any hurdle that falls in their path is usually removed within a minute of screen time. Course corrected; carry on. Now, you could argue wryly that this just goes to show that if you want something done right, get the women to do it… but it leaves Ocean’s Eight light on drama or suspense. It becomes process, rather like watching a Rube Goldberg device in motion, except really not all as impressive.
And while the women in these roles are all adept at showing great presence… the writing is a little thin. There’s really no knowing any of them. So on several fronts there’s a lightness to Ocean’s Eight, a weightlessness that makes you long for what might’ve been. Throw in a couple of really big boneheaded plot holes, and its tough to deny that the outcome isn’t a bit disappointing.
But that doesn’t make this the disaster it has been painted as in some circles. Critical reception has been muted, and the above examples of the movie’s deficiencies mean this kind of makes sense… but it still works well enough with scaled down expectations. As a bit of glamorous fluff to pass 2 hours, there’s plenty to please. It skips along briskly, offers a few smiles and even manages to keep an ace up its sleeve for the end game.
If only said end game didn’t so heavily feature James Corden.
Gary Ross also made the first film in The Hunger Games franchise; in retrospect the weakest entry until its house-of-card finale. The Hunger Games isn’t a particularly bad film, but better things followed. There’s no reason to predict otherwise for an all-female Ocean’s franchise, so long as further exceptional talent is enlisted. Ultimately, box office will reveal how far Bullock and co. will be allowed to go. But if we are to see them again, here’s hoping the writers ante up and give everyone more to work with.