Ocean’s 8 Film Review
Another missed opportunity to subvert Hollywood’s problematic genre tropes
Working within the confines of a Hollywood studio system must be like running across an active target range—you’re so glad when you make it to the other side you couldn’t care less how you looked out there. Ocean’s 8, a spinoff from Ocean’s Eleven series with the genders flipped in the core group, is such an inoffensive, marginally stylish, star-studded affair that it feels like its requirements for release have wrung it dry of personality. Directed by Gary Ross and scripted by Olivia Milch and Ross, the movie attempts to do something that results in absolutely nothing. In other words, it gathers a great cast of veteran and upcoming performers and does absolutely nothing with its opportunity. But, hey, its mere existence signifies things are getting better in Hollywood, right?
Steven Soderbergh, who directed Ocean’s Eleven (2002), said of that iconic George Clooney-starring mega-hit, ‘It was the hardest thing I ever did. It’s a movie about absolutely nothing’. It seems fitting, then, that when the common complaint about American movie studios is that they have absolutely nothing new to offer, that we’d get an unoriginal rehash of a meaningless movie. The original pitted suave, handsome criminals against Las Vegas casinos (the morally bankrupt vs the morally bankrupt), in which the point of the movie was to watch the meticulous planning and well-staged execution of an against-all-odds heist.
Ocean’s 8 is much of the same, and though the cast is better, the screenplay doesn’t let them do much and Ross’s direction plays like a tepid Soderbergh fan-boy handing in his film studies assignment. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), younger sister of Clooney’s Danny Ocean, is getting out of gaol on parole. She’s tired of the criminal lifestyle, just wants to settle down, pay her bills and live a normal life. Cut to her stealing bags full of designer clothes under the guise of trying to return them without a receipt before storming out.
This is a pretty cool sequence. Mostly what makes it work is Bullock. Seeing her after a few years of non-activity in the movies is like watching an old pro perform a simple task. Even though Debbie Ocean is mostly an editing montage of assured looks and wry smiles, Bullock does it with a real grace. She doesn’t ape Clooney’s performance, it’s just they both possess that same movie star factor. It’s hard not to fall for it.
She of course assembles a team and they prepare for a big heist job. They’re going to rob a fashion gala, where a wealthy actor named Daphne (Anne Hathaway) is going to be wearing a $150 million necklace—they’re going to take it right off her neck. If you seen any American heist movie from the Italian Job (2003) remake to some of the Fast and Furious instalments, you’ll know that the movie lives and dies by its charismatic cast. A punky Cate Blanchett and Bullock have an entertaining chemistry, Helena Bonham Carter is a mess of tics and underdeveloped character quirks that she manages to get something out of, and Rihanna is a Rastafarian hacker introduced smoking a fat blunt and acting uninterested in everything the gang is doing.
On the whole, you’re not likely to hate this movie. What’s despicable about it is how gutless it is. When you look at the poster for the original Ocean’s Eleven, you see the row of guys lined up in suits, Clooney and Pitt upfront, with Julia Roberts, way at the back and out of focus. The main criticisms of these crowd-pleasers has always been what a boy’s club they were, and a white one at that. Ocean’s 8 pushes diversity in the casting, especially with Awkwafina’s pickpocketer and Mindy Kaling’s jeweller, but it does nothing more than cast them and hope nobody notices this is a direct retreading of an easily satirisable movie, in an era when we’re supposed to be more hip to Hollywood’s problematic trends. The characters are all chasing the same capitalistic dream of happiness via high-rise apartments and limitless wealth, but the movie acts like it gets off scot-free with a different cast. Casting is part of the battle, but subverting problematic genre tropes and innovative filmmaking takes up the rest.
I probably shouldn’t have expected much from an Ocean’s movie. It increasingly feels like, for these remakes and retreads and cinematic universe extensions, when the thing looks different on the surface, don’t go peering underneath.
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