The cast of Ocean’s 8 are no strangers to a heist. Each of these leading ladies have, after all, been repeatedly robbed of equality throughout their respective careers. Gender-swapping the Oceans franchise marks a superficial step forward when the crew are almost entirely men. The film itself is fine.
Debbie Ocean is the previously unmentioned, incarcerated, sister of Danny Ocean, the suave maître d’ of Steven Soderbergh’s naughties Oceans trilogy – itself a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film, Ocean’s 11. Played by a terrific Sandra Bullock, Debbie is ultra cool, razor sharp and supremely funny. She’s a crook who was double crossed by her slimy ex boyfriend (Richard Armitage) and is after cash and vengeance alike. Debbie is also, troublingly, defined from the off by her relationship with her absentee brother. Indeed, her arc in the film strongly echos Danny’s back in 2001. It is criminal that Bullock can only lead this type of film off the back of a very male franchise.
In spite of these misgivings, the opening act of Ocean’s 8, from The Hunger Games director Gary Ross, is highly promising. After dancing rings around her parole officers – ‘I just want the simple life’ – Debbie launches herself upon commercial society with vengeance. Smart cons see her get one shop to gift bag her stolen goods and a hotel to give her a free luxury room. It’s all far too much fun to demand scrutiny and comes with a pleasingly restricted dose of typical heist-film editing flares. Thus far, an Oceans film as never been more vibrant.
When Cate Blanchett turns up – a head to toe atomic blonde, dressed marvellously in leopard skins and leather throughout- she brings a splendid sexual frisson to her partnership with Bullock. Blanchett plays Debbie’s former partner-in-crime Lou and is very much the yin to Brad Pitt’s yang. Bullock and Blanchett click instantly and bring both sparkle and depth to Ross’ script – co-written with Olivia Milch – enough to make for an engaging watch. As a Thelma and Louise duo, these two could go far.
It’s hard to exactly pinpoint when this peters out but peter it does. As the cast grows to include the underused likes of Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling and an Irish lilting Helena Bonham Carter, Ocean’s 8 loses its power to thrill. Hathaway’s great, Bonham Carter’s ditsy and Kaling hasn’t half a page of dialogue. With action beginning to drag, a lack of character depth means that the whole thing grows rather perfunctory.
Whilst Debbie’s recruited a smaller crew than Danny ever did, very few actually register. Part of the problem is that they never actually work together, with each addition little more than employee of Bullock and Blanchett. A final twist in the tale, meanwhile, completely negates most of them from the actual heist. Those who loved the slick aesthetic of Soderbergh’s film will enjoy Ocean’s 8 but those who found their twists frustrating can find no reprieve here. Ross plots his action with a tidy direction but delivers a whole that is just a little too procedural.
As an ensemble dynamic, this team works and deserves a second outing. What they also deserve is franchise independence and investible humanity.