TL;DR
  • Everything you expect from an Ocean’s heist movie – but adds nothing else
  • The all-female gender-twist works well
  • Very little jeopardy – every problem is solved easily and doesn’t excite the audience for more than a scene or two
  • Nothing new – even has an ex-relationship sub-plot like in Ocean’s Eleven
  • Very stylish, but doesn’t make up for a lack of characterisation in some characters
  • Half of the cast as excellent as expected – the other half not as annoying as they could have been
  • A promising start to a potential trilogy…?

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There’s still a way to go, but with any luck Hollywood might be starting to realise that men shouldn’t be the ones in charge. 2016’s Ghostbusters may not have been liked (at all), but if Wonder Woman showed us anything, it was that enjoyable films led by strong women can be a strong pull. Now we have a gender-twist on Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven (itself a remake of the original 1960’s Ocean’s Eleven with Frank Sinatra). I can’t help but wish that instead of continuing or rebooting existing franchises with this gender-swap, Hollywood would create a unique franchise… but then again, we all know that would struggle to bring in the same size audience… Fortunately on the whole this works – a stylish and enjoyable, although ultimately unnecessary, take on the Ocean’s heist movies that still ticks all the boxes – but sadly, no more than the ones you expect.

Finally allowed to leave jail on parole Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of Danny Ocean, immediately decides that the law-abiding life still isn’t for her. Having already formed a plan during her jail-time, she immediately reconnects with fellow criminal friend Lou (Cate Blanchett) and tells her of the heist she has planned: to steal a priceless diamond necklace from the neck of celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). Immediately they start rounding up a group to pull off the perfect heist, including jeweller Amita (Mindy Kaling), designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina) and ex-fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson). But will Debbie’s perfect plan go without a hitch?

Admittedly, it’s tricky to take over from precious Ocean’s films and do a heist movie that’s different. Every cliché and genre trope you can imagine comes into play – even the ex-partner related sub-plot is similar to Ocean’s Eleven. But even though it’s nothing new, the story is nevertheless an enjoyable one. It’s a simple, fun structure with a couple of twists up its sleeve (even managing to wrangle in a couple of former cast members as nice cameos…) One of those twists even gives you that longed for “yay” feeling you need in all heist movies – though it’s not quite as euphoric and satisfying as the Clair de Lune scene at the end of Ocean’s Eleven. Still, it does have its issues. From the various problems that are inevitably easily solved in a couple of minutes to the drawn-out end with James Corden’s insurance man’s investigation. The story seems so set on its characters succeeding, that we never pause to question if all will go well; there’s no real jeopardy, a huge failing of the film which weakens it. Whether it’s a small aspect of the plan going wrong or someone out to get them, nothing poses a threat to excite the passive audience.

Still, it’s undoubtedly a fun film even just to watch. Whereas director Gary Ross had to stay fairly grim and gritty for The Hunger Games, with this film he lets loose and has fun – especially with cinematographer Eigil Bryld, who photographs the heist almost as beautifully as he did Bruges in In Bruges. There’s still an issue that perhaps they went with style over substance however, since there seems to be more time allowed for aesthetics and style rather than characterisation, sometimes coming across more as an advert than a film – but when it complements the personality of the characters as well as the overall film as a whole, it somehow manages to work.

When initially hearing about the film when it was being cast, I had mixed feelings: with the likes of Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Richard Armitage, Sarah Paulson and Helena Bonham Carter, how could it fail to be anything but excellent? But then they throw into the mix the likes of Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, James Corden… I admit my doubts grew. Fortunately, the good half of the cast are as excellent as you would expect, and the more iffy half is (to my eternal relief) not nearly as irritating as I had feared.

While Helena Bonham Carter’s Irish accent is strange and seemingly unnecessary, she’s nevertheless excellent and funny. As too are Armitage, Paulson and Hathaway, the latter of whom is a joy to roll your eyes at. Bullock and Blanchett still steal the show as the leads, managing to drum up a nice level of charisma and chemistry to rival even Pitt and Clooney (although they’d still win, but not by too much…). Bullock especially deserves special mention, able to take over from Clooney’s former lead so well without even noticeably breaking a sweat.

In an ideal world, the other half of the cast would be different, but as it is at least I can say they don’t ruin the film. None of them outstay their welcome and all contribute to the film’s story and even give some comic moments! Rihanna hasn’t changed my mind that “musicians” should usually stick to “music” – but at least it almost makes up for Battleship and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets… Corden’s casting still beggars belief. I can’t help but feel he was only cast to cash in on his current popularity; his part would have been better (and made more sense) played by anyone else.

On the whole, Ocean’s Eight is more of a success than it could have been. Yes, it doesn’t beat the original Ocean’s film, does little to surprise us or shake things up (other than an all-female group) and is a little too breezy and easy-going. But it’s still enjoyable with comic moments, has some nice characters and nods to the original without rebooting completely – and it’s a refreshing joy to see a female-dominated cast in a film for everyone. Ocean’s Nine and Ten perhaps…? (They’ve left just enough room for a trilogy – it can’t be a coincidence!)

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