An all-star cast is let down by the direction and writing of this movie, says Rosie Best
Having already passed $100m at the box office, Gary Ross’s Ocean’s 8 has seen a great deal of attention both from viewers and in the media. A spinoff of the highly successful heist movies, Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13 – starring (amongst other famous names) George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts – Ocean’s 8 is a gender-flipped sequel, with its own stellar cast, including Sandra Bullock, Rihanna, Helena Bonham-Carter, Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina.
Given the varying qualities of the original Ocean’s films (it’s hard to believe 11 and 12 were even directed by the same person!), I approached 8 hopeful, but cautious. And it seems I wasn’t the only one who was nervous about the film.
Ocean’s 8 begins much like Ocean’s 11; Danny’s younger sister Debbie (Bullock) has been in prison for almost five years, all the while planning her most elaborate and ambitious heist yet. When she is released on parole, she immediately tracks down best friend and former sidekick, Lou (Cate Blanchett), explaining that, in addition to the two of them, they would need only six more women to complete the theft. They go about gathering a team of women, including a broke fashion designer (Bonham-Carter), a jeweller (Kaling) and a stay-at-home mum who fences on the side (Sarah Paulson), and target the most prestigious event of the New York calendar: the Met Ball. But unlike Clooney and his gang, this girl squad are not stealing money – they’re stealing a Cartier diamond necklace (*cringe*).
Overall, the film was undeniably enjoyable: it was enormously satisfying to watch a team of such diverse women devise and carry out their plan so smoothly and, as Debbie hopes, it does a good job of inspiring future, female criminals, if only by showing them how fun it could be. However, director/writer Gary Ross almost seems out of his depth with this cast and with the concept itself. The film came across as a little tame in places: yes, the heist is a success but it lacks a certain edginess, missing the pizzazz (for want of a better word) and sharp wit of its predecessors. Also, the fact that the women steal a necklace seems very clichéd, and somehow less dramatic than Danny Ocean’s bundles of cash.
I can’t help but feel that the source of this problem lay largely in the stars’ dialogue, rather than in their acting. In Ocean’s 11, Clooney and Pitt are given countless jokes and one-liners, but such an abundance of these is missing from 8 – a shame, given the enormous talent populating the film.
The revelation about Debbie’s motivation – her desire to get revenge on her ex-boyfriend – was also disappointing. It would have been enough for her to have undertaken the heist simply because “it’s what I’m good at”, as she says early on. This additional incentive felt unnecessary and was an immediate eye-roll for me.
Nevertheless, there were several stand-out performances in the movie, notably by Rihanna – who I’d love to see in more films – and Anne Hathaway. In a nod to the bizarre scene in Ocean’s 12 when Julia Roberts plays herself (“you do look kind of like her…”, says Brad Pitt), Anne Hathaway also portrays an actress. A hyperbolic parody of herself, Hathaway’s character Daphne Kluger is glamorous, beautiful and a bit of a diva – following one small meltdown over her appearance, Rose (Bonham-Carter) comforts her, saying that “you have the best neck in the business”. As the film goes on, audiences are led to believe that Daphne is a superficial airhead: whilst Daphne is supposedly preoccupied by her own reflection, Rose takes out her phone and secretly films the necklace and the team even manage to trick her into taking Debbie’s ex to the ball as her date.
However, in a late plot twist, we find out that Daphne actually caught on to the plan much more quickly than we thought and, unknown to the others, played a vital part in its success. By developing an initially small and seemingly simple role in this way, Hathaway’s Daphne presents femininity as something complex. The other characters and we, as viewers, underestimate her but she effectively manipulates our underestimation, drawing power from this and harking back to Debbie’s earlier affirmation: “a her gets ignored. For once we want to be ignored.”