Freshly released from prison, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) teams up with her best friend Lou (Cate Blanchett) with a plan to pull off an elaborate jewel heist. Having spent the past five years plotting every aspect of their perfect crime, Debbie and Lou set about recruiting a team to steal an extremely valuable necklace from famous actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the prestigious Met Gala in New York.
Ocean’s 8 is threaded into the Soderbergh iteration of Ocean movies, as Debbie Ocean is the sister of George Clooney’s character Danny. It’s worth it as an excuse to see Elliot Gould cameo as Reuben, but beyond establishing a thin continuity with the previous trilogy, it’s not all that necessary. Soderbergh’s version (itself a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack movie) and the sequels, although fun, are unlikely to have left anyone believing the movies to be sacred ground. In fact, in these times of superfluous remakes, the Oceans series actually looks like a perfect candidate for reinterpretation.
And so it proves to be. Although at heart Ocean’s 8 is a routine heist caper, it manages to do exactly what it promises, delivering some solidly entertaining ensemble thievery off the back of a charismatic and likeable cast.
Some characters fare better than others (as with all large ensemble pictures) and the most detail is reserved for Debbie Ocean. Bullock gives us a character driven by criminal ambition, focused on the matter at hand and uncharacteristically detached from her usual light charm. Ocean is the consummate professional thief though, and the opening scenes with Debbie grifting her way into shopping sprees and swanky hotel suites are a lot of fun.
Lou (Cate Blanchett) does not come off as well. Her motivations are never fully realised beyond a friendship with Debbie and an understandable hankering for several million dollars. But Blanchett does well with what’s available and gets the most out of a movie where characterisation takes a back seat to the capering.
The rest of the cast all get their moments. Rihanna is very good as computer hacker 9 Ball, the pop singer embracing the character’s deft approach to a heist movie staple and putting a memorable stamp on it. It’s also refreshing to see a computer geek portrayed as something other than the usual nerdy, white male stereotype.
Of particular highlight is Helena Bonham Carter, who plays fashion designer Rose Weil with a bewildered delight. She may spend the whole movie looking like someone just woke her up from a nap, but she grabs her allotted screen time by the throat and throttles a hugely enjoyable performance out of it. She has less to do in the second half of the film, and that’s a bit of a shame, but she’s great fun whenever she’s on screen.
The rest of the team is rounded out by truck hijacker Tammy (Sarah Paulson), who serves as their operative on the inside at the Met Gala, as well as jewel expert Amita (Mindy Kaling) and pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), who are both a little underused. Anne Hathaway is reliably great as movie star Daphne Kluger, but most surprising of all is James Corden as insurance investigator John Frazier. Corden’s funny and amiable, and thousands of light years away from his excruciating chat show persona.
Ironically, while Ocean 8 is light on characterisation, it is the strength of this ensemble that carries it through. While that might seem contradictory, it simply means the cast does a lot with some pretty rote characters, their collective charisma allowing us to forgive a screenplay that’s considerably less watertight than it ought to be.
Plot wise, the whole thing is a house of cards, ill prepared for the slightest gust of logic. Armed with full knowledge and conscious of all motives, it starts to fall apart. There are story threads designed solely to trick the audience rather than the characters, which is a bit of a cheat. The caper, and the movie, would be more satisfying if certain elements of coincidence and chance were minimised.
But, at the end of the day, nobody is going to see this film expecting gritty realism, so the plot holes don’t really matter. What does matter is that Ocean’s 8 delivers almost two hours of entertaining heist capering and has all the right ingredients for an enjoyable night at the movies. Ocean’s 8 is light and undemanding, and crucially, is quite a bit of fun.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘Ocean’s 8,’ in Australian cinemas on June 7 and US cinemas on June 8.