Sunday 22 March 2020

Movie Review: Ocean's Eight (2018)

A heist thriller, Ocean's Eight features an all-women gang plotting a daring diamond heist at the dressy gala event of the year. The female perspective is empowering, but the plot and characters are middling.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of the infamous Danny, is released from prison after serving more than five years for theft and fraud. She sets about assembling a team of women for her next big job. Lou (Cate Blanchett) is Debbie's frequent partner-in-crime, Tammy (Sarah Paulson) is a fence hiding behind a suburban family facade, Nine Ball (Rihanna) is a top-notch hacker, Constance (Awkwafina) is a light-fingered thief, and Amita (Mindy Kaling) is a jewelry maker.

Their target is the New York Metropolitan Museum of Arts annual fundraising gala. The event's star attraction is actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), and Debbie recruits fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) to ensure Daphne wears a precious Cartier necklace worth $150m for the evening. The plot to steal the necklace involves spiked soup, security camera blind spots and a special role for Debbie's former partner, smarmy art dealer Claude Becker (Richard Armitage).

While there is merit in re-imagining familiar stories with women in lead roles, the inherent added value can be limited. Ocean's Eight is slick, vivid and sparkly, but other than featuring women as instigators, barely adds anything new to the heist genre. Indeed, the details of the theft are less clever than most. A security camera nudged into a blindspot is not the most thrilling innovation, and becomes essentially ridiculous when the full extent of the plan is later revealed.

The film is sprinkled with wit and some humour, but also lacks character depth and any sense of genuine surprise. Other than Debbie and her spectral bond with Danny (presumed dead, but she has her suspicions) and grizzled friendship with Lou, the other characters threaten to be interesting but are singularly defined by their expertise and receive precious little opportunity to evolve.

As for attempts at unexpected delights, Ocean's Eight introduces a late and unnecessary twist that lands flat and only serves to underline the script's lack of confidence in its own core narrative.

Director and co-writer Gary Ross twiddles the style knobs and recognizes the value of a star-studded cast willing to have some fun, and the film rides their energy. Bullock (determined), Blanchett (circumspect) and an especially ditzy Hathaway generate their own momentum, almost independent of the plot details.

Helena Bonham Carter is unfortunately saddled with a caricature representation of an eccentric fashion designer, while Sarah Paulson's Tammy is bland enough to be instantly forgettable. Rihanna, Awkwafina and Mindy Kaling add diversity but are strictly confined to stereotypes of hacker, thief and jewel maker respectively.

On the positive side, the final act features an intervention by insurance investigator John Frazier (James Corden), an acid-tongued Brit capable of seeing through every conceivable lie. His presence adds a jolt of cheeky electricity as he skewers everyone to determine the fate of the precious necklace. He's a man navigating a maze carefully constructed by a group of sharp women, a welcome reversal of fortune even if the content is familiar for any gender.

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