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Movie Review: ‘Ocean’s 8’

Gary Ross' all-female heist film doesn't deviate much from the 'Ocean's' template

(From left) Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett and Awkwafina in a scene from ‘Ocean’s 8’. Photo: AP
(From left) Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett and Awkwafina in a scene from ‘Ocean’s 8’. Photo: AP

It begins like the other one did: an Ocean sibling in prison, explaining to someone off-camera why they should be released, leaving prison better-dressed than most people in the normal course of their lives, immediately seeking out their partner in crime. But then, Ocean’s 8 does something Steven Soderbergh’s earlier films would never have. When Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) meets Lou (Cate Blanchett) for the first time after prison, I wondered if they’d slip into the dry, finishing-each-other’s-sentences rapport that Danny and Rusty had. Instead, as Debbie sits in the car, Lou darts it from outside the frame and gives her a hug and a quick kiss. That’s more emotion displayed than the entire Danny Ocean trilogy.

Moments like these help distinguish the all-female Ocean’s 8 from its male-fronted predecessors, but there aren’t nearly enough of them. Instead, Gary Ross’ film does its best to be like the earlier ones, cherry-picking them for personality types and narrative devices and character beats. Turns out a group of highly talented female cons isn’t that different from a bunch of male criminals—which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, just disappointing if you’re looking for new rhythms, fresh ways of approaching a set formula.

Debbie’s been hatching a plan while incarcerated, a heist involving a rare diamond necklace, to be taken off the person of actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) while she’s at the Met Gala (like Danny’s plan in Ocean’s Eleven, Debbie’s also has a personal angle involving an old flame). She and Lou put a team together: Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), a once-prominent designer down on her luck; Constance (Awkwafina), a pickpocket; Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a fence; jewellery expert Amita (Mindy Kaling) and dreadlocked hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna). Ever since Seven Samurai, the recruitment montage has been one of the signal pleasures of mainstream cinema, but only Carter’s introduction is eccentric enough to stand out here. The rest are boilerplate, especially Kaling’s, which is hampered by the overused trope of Indian mothers worrying their daughters about getting married and the comedian speaking unconvincing Hindi.

Once Daphne becomes a bigger part of the narrative, things perk up—Hathaway is a hoot as the vacuous star, and Carter, sporting a scattered look and an Irish accent, plays off her hilariously. The plan, which takes up the last 45 or so minutes, is elaborate and precisely executed and all the things you’d expect it to be. All it lacks is a sucker-punch of a twist, something that might make a viewer crack an appreciative grin. A late revelation is surprising but far from convincing (it feels like the writers worked backwards from the twist), and the culmination of Ocean’s scheme is depressingly well-signalled.

Ross opts for a tone less compulsively glib than that of the Soderbergh films—the wisecracks are fewer, if not necessarily better. Nevertheless, there are some concise comic moments. I laughed out loud when Debbie, pretending to be German, bumps into Heidi Klum at the Gala and wings her way through a conversation with a facility that would’ve impressed Hans Landa. And there are other small pleasures: the intermingling of Irish, Caribbean, Australian accents; Daphne responding to “Barbie, but in a good way" with a tearful “Thank you"; everything Blanchett wears in the film but especially that dark green jumpsuit.

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