REVIEW – ‘Ocean’s 8’

Every now and then, a film comes along which you could probably pick to shreds but wisely stop yourself from doing. Last year, that was Bad Moms Christmas. This year, it’s Ocean’s 8. That’s not to say either of these films are inherently “bad” movies. It’s just neither are particularly inventive or original. They’re not something you’d call groundbreaking. And they suffer from glaring plot holes and narrative missteps. However, both are so much damn fun, it seems unnecessary to demonise their mistakes, given the entertainment joy they deliver to an audience. Oh, yes. It’s time to hand out a free pass to a film.

Naturally, these two films share something in common; a kick-ass female ensemble cast. This is still shamefully a genuine rarity in cinema. When it happens, it needs to be celebrated. Slapping together a cast full of stellar women doesn’t always work, as we saw with last year’s disappointing Rough Night. But, thankfully, with Ocean’s 8, it’s a roaring good time which moves at a cracking pace and features a genuinely entertaining heist to match anything the dudes can concoct.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is the equally charming and charismatic estranged sister of infamous delinquent, Danny (played in the original trilogy by George Clooney but wisely nowhere to be seen here). After being ratted out by her scumbag art-dealer boyfriend, Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), Debbie has spent the last five years, eight months, and 12 days in prison. After delivering a well-rehearsed “I promise I’ll be good” monologue, she lands parole and returns home to New York City. But the straight life is far from Debbie’s mind, and she begins to craft the major heist she’s been planning during her entire prison sentence.

Each year, Vogue magazine holds their ridiculously-extravagant Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The charity costume ball is known as the most exclusive event of the year, with an endless stream of celebrities in outlandish designer gowns, covered in dazzling jewels. This provides the perfect setting for Debbie’s outrageous scheme to steal the glorious Toussaint, a one-of-a-kind, hasn’t-left-the-vault-in-50-years, $150 million Cartier diamond necklace to be worn by vapid actress and gala host Daphne Kluger (a scene-stealing Anne Hathaway).

Naturally, she can’t pull off this heist alone. Re-teaming with her ex-partner and best friend Lou (Cate Blanchett), the pair set about recruiting the rest of their gang of bandits. Down-on-her-luck Irish fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Botham Carter) is desperate to resurrect her floundering career and pay back her crippling tax debt. She’ll be the one to provide access to the event and place the prized necklace around Daphne’s neck, ready to be nabbed. Tammy (an underused Sarah Paulson) is a former associate of Debbie’s who has seemingly left her old tricks behind for a life in the suburbs, while still trafficking stolen items on the sly. The chance for one last big score is too good to resist.

Then there’s Amita (Mindy Kaling), a jewellery aficionado who’s still stuck living with her disappointed Indian parents, leaving her desperate to way to cut the apron strings. And finally, there are our two grifters. Nine-Ball (Rihanna) is a super-cool hacker with the best skills on the east coast. Constance (Awkwafina, stealing the entire film) is a slight-of-hand con art with a particular set of skills that will no doubt come in very handy for the gala scheme. Hang on. That’s only seven in our titular eight. Well, completely unwittingly, Daphne becomes the eighth member of the crew, and her every move become as integral to the theft as any other member of the team. Can Ocean’s Eight pull off the crime of the century?

If the details of the heist sound a little less complex than the ones found in the original three films, you’re not wrong. While there’s still plenty of outrageous tricks and stunts involved, it’s not quite as ridiculously complicated as the exploits Danny and his crew cooked up. That’s not meant as a negative. It’s rather refreshing to see something a little more grounded in reality from this now-expanded franchise. While director Gary Ross may not have the sophisticated style of original trilogy director Steven Soderbergh, his caper is still crafted with lashings of finesse and flair. It’s almost impossible not to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The location filming provides Ross with the most glorious of locales and serves as a genuine dream for those who love New York City. We’re taken inside the actual offices of Vogue with a cameo from none other than Anna Wintour herself. We take a glimpse inside the glamorous stores of Cartier and Bergdorf Goodman. And, of course, there’s plenty of filming on the streets of New York as well. But, most importantly, the production was given permission to film at last year’s Met Gala itself, granting us private access to the world’s most exclusive party. Yes, this also lends itself to a dozen or so celebrity cameos (including three of the Kardashian mob), but, thankfully, none of them are too distracting. It all creates an authentic visual aesthetic that is genuinely beautiful to behold.

Also looking utterly spectacular are the ladies themselves in a constant wave of gorgeous outfits from costume designer Sarah Edwards. And not just what they ultimately wear at the Met Gala, although Bullock’s black and silver gown is downright stunning. The females are constantly dressed in the most beautiful of ensembles, with Edwards showcasing her talent for understanding each cast member’s individual shape and style. Can someone please start a Best Costume Design Oscar campaign now? There’s no better design work this year, so far.

But the calling card of Ocean’s 8 is its sensational ensemble cast. While the film disappointingly underuses sublime talent like Paulson and Kaling (neither are really given much to do), it takes full advantage of the rest of its phenomenal roster of actresses. Bullock can lead a film like this with her eyes closed, bringing effortless confidence and self-assured swagger to a character who feels every bit as suave as her brother. Likewise with Blanchett, who isn’t gifted much in the way of character development, but runs with it anyway. Bonham Carter is her typically quirky best, even if her Irish accent falters from time to time. And Awkwafina is a real find, managing to steal focus every time she’s on screen and demanding Hollywood pay attention for future roles.

The real surprise of Ocean’s 8 may just be the sensational performance by Anne Hathaway, who is easily the film’s stand-out. With her tongue firmly planted in her cheek, Hathaway gives a masterclass turn as a parody of the actress many foolishly assume she really is. Hathaway experienced a downturn in public affection since winning an Academy Award for Les Misérables (which I still do not understand). The chance to play a vain, self-obsessed and somewhat neurotic actress provides her with an opportunity to really stick it to the haters. And it’s clear she’s having an absolute ball tapping into the misconceived notions of her own public persona. At times, you half expect her to look dead in the camera and give us a wink. It’s nothing short of masterful and will genuinely make you fall madly in love with her again.

I’m sure there will be many who sneer at this film’s very existence. That putting an all-female spin on Ocean’s 11 is nothing more than a marketing ploy to capture female viewers. Or that Hollywood is just desperately trying to meet a quota for female-led pieces of cinema. But when the end result is this much damn fun, who the hell cares what the motivation was behind it? A film like this can hardly be called pandering when it knows exactly what you came for and gives it to you in spades.

Sure, Ocean’s 8 is flawed and has plot holes my cat would find glaringly obvious. But, again, the enjoyment and entertainment factor is too damn delicious to resist. Eight women getting the chance to shine on-screen is always something worth celebrating, especially when they all get to look so wonderfully gorgeous doing it. Let Ocean’s 8 win you over and just have a great time.

★★★1/2☆☆

Distributor: Roadshow
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard Armitage, James Corden
Director: Gary Ross
Screenplay: Gary Ross, Olivia Milch
Producers: Steven Soderbergh, Susan Ekins
Cinematography: Eigil Bryld
Production Design: Alex DiGerlando
Music: Daniel Pemberton
Editor: Juliette Welfling
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: 7th June 2018 (Australia)

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