Updated: Jul 10, 2021
Generally speaking, I enjoy heist movies. The plan, putting together the team, the job and the aftermath. Done well, it can be very exciting to watch. An example of it being done well is the Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney Ocean’s trilogy from the early 2000s (or at least the first two; the third one was kind of terrible). They were light, fun, clever and stuffed with entertaining characters and witty dialogue. Now, eleven years after the last of that series, comes a spinoff of sorts, the all-female Ocean’s 8, which captures a little of the charm of the Clooney films and delivers the goods following a disappointing first half.
The movie does not exactly start with a bang. There are some mildly enjoyable scenes during the extended setup, but the pace was off. Everything just felt slower than it should. There was too much air between lines, no real surprises and the tone was inconsistent. As a result, it was unable to build up any momentum. Nothing was bad, though with the exception of a few moments, it was not particularly fun. Thankfully, once the story got to the heist, it turned around in a big way.
The best thing about Ocean’s 8 is its cast. It is filled from top to bottom with talented actresses. Though not all of them get much opportunity to shine. Sandra Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean (the sister of the Clooney character), fresh out of jail with big plans. She has a handful of good moments, but plays things too seriously for the tone. Cate Blanchett seems to be having a blast as her best friend. While she does not get a lot of time to develop her character, her line deliveries are a highlight. Sarah Paulson as their fence has an amusing introduction, then gets lost in the shuffle. Rihanna as a computer hacker, Mindy Kaling as a jewelry expert and Awkwafina as a pickpocket mostly stay in the background, but they pop up occasionally with a good line.
However, the picture is stolen by Helena Bonham Carter as a fashion designer the team convinces to help them and Anne Hathaway as the egotistical actress she is designing a dress for. Their performances fit the tone far more consistently than anybody else’s. Also, they are very funny. Bonham Carter is delightful as a woman who has lost her self-confidence and now has to step outside her comfort zone to turn her life around. Hathaway, meanwhile, is absolutely hilarious playing someone whose vanity and arrogance make her the perfect mark. They both bring an energy and lightness that the movie otherwise has difficulty matching.
My biggest issues with the film come from the direction. Gary Ross is a solid director, responsible for Pleasantville, Seabiscuit and the first Hunger Games film. He has mainly worked in drama and, based on Ocean’s 8, he does not necessarily seem well-suited for a story like this. He never figured out the pace. The first half is far too leisurely. He failed to help himself with the screenplay (which he co-wrote), which does a poor job setting up the conflicts and most of the characters. There is some humor, but the drama is forced and there is no sense of urgency. That changes once the heist starts. The tempo picks up and so does the entertainment factor. The central sequence and its fallout raises the film from passable to pretty pleasurable.
Ocean’s 8 (104 minutes without the end credits) has little bad, some good and a lot of okay. It has a great cast and a decent story, but the execution is uneven. This makes the film frustrating at times. Luckily, it saves its best for last. While I would still classify it as slightly disappointing overall, there ended up being just enough good for a recommendation. It is not quite as clever, fun or witty as Ocean’s 11 or 12, however it is acceptable as a continuation of the franchise.
3¼ out of 5
Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean
Cate Blanchett as Lou
Anne Hathaway as Daphne Kluger
Sarah Paulson as Tammy
Helena Bonham Carter as Rose Weil
Mindy Kaling as Amita
Rihanna as Nine Ball
Awkwafina as Constance
Richard Armitage as Claude Becker
Directed by Gary Ross
Screenplay by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch