Despite having huge potential to break the mould of a tired genre, Ocean's 8 does little beneath the surface to really test the boundaries of the conventional heist movie and disappointingly fails to challenge its superb female ensemble.
In our current era of calls for women to be given greater opportunities in all corners of the film industry, a release like Ocean’s 8 is incredibly timely, and it certainly couldn’t be more necessary. Although the franchise is traditionally known for its masculine domination and frequent misogyny, director Gary Ross’ (who’s no stranger to a female hero following his work on huge teen-hit, The Hunger Games) latest Ocean’s effort is thankfully as far away from these outdated norms as possible. Here, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) and a crew of fiery females take the place of Danny (George Clooney) and the boys, and it’s all the better for it – there’s no hiding that Ocean’s 8 is all about girl power, and that’s exactly what we need in the wake of movements like #MeToo.
Following the death of her brother and release from prison after being stitched up by her ex-boyfriend, slimy art dealer Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), Debbie is ready to follow in Danny’s footsteps and pull off a ridiculous heist, attempting to steal one of the most valuable sets of jewels in the world from the prestigious and high-security Met Gala – no biggie. Slowly, she assembles an all-female crew from the most surprising of places, determined to pinch the necklace straight from the neck of insufferable celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). From old friend and rugged biker-type Lou (Cate Blanchett), to computer hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), breakdown-ready fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), to quiet yet cunning mother Tammy (Sarah Paulson), and deceptive Constance (Awkwafina) to seemingly innocent Amita (Mandy Kaling), they’re all wildly different, but each brings something different to an ensemble who could win awards in their sleep and comfortably convince us they can pull of such a seemingly impossible task.
Ocean’s 8 is incredibly fun at points, with the actual heist providing a number of surprises in an enthralling excess of style created by quick-witted writing and slick editing. Unfortunately, behind its surface-level flair, most of what we see has been done many a time before. The few thrills are more than capable of holding their own this summer blockbuster season, but the tension is never prolonged for long enough and the technical flair feels a little hollow. Once the thrill of the all-female dynamic has worn off, Ocean’s 8 falls into all the traps of a conventional and tired heist movie, moving between events too quickly with little time to pause and really get to know these intriguing characters.
Each member of the cast is pretty much perfect for their role. Bullock in particular throws herself into the role of Debbie with such ease, dominating the screen in a way that is joyous to watch and sets the pace for the rest of the cast to follow – that they do. Yet the effortlessness of the performances almost feels as if these women aren’t being challenged enough. We know they’re more than capable enough of producing something special, and while they master the archetypal material they’re given, the lack of time given to really develop these characters means we never see their full potential or really get to know the group, despite how much we’d love to. This problem is most noticeable in the intriguing but ultimately pointless inclusion of Nine Ball’s sister and the way that Debbie’s backstory is dealt with. Despite being a pivotal element of the plot, Debbie’s past relationship with Claude is washed over. Sure, we get the basic details of what went down between them, but the fast-paced and arguably irritating editing of their flashback sequence rushes through the events that are key to understanding these important details and we’re subsequently never that convinced of both the legitimacy of their feelings and Debbie’s rationale for revenge.
Ocean’s 8 confidently and impressively puts two fingers up to anyone misjudged enough to question the ability of women at the centre of the film industry, yet simultaneously fails to revolutionise the generic tropes of the heist movie. All the elements of a stand-out film are there, but more often than not Ross dangles these possibilities in front of us, teasing us with more, and then robs this potential from our very grasp in favour of generic safety that’s just a bit of a bore.
Ocean’s 8 (2018), directed by Gary Ross, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros., certificate 12A.