Director: Gary Ross
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 110 Minutes
The combination of clever plotting, charismatic performances and witty writing made Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy some of the most consistently entertaining films to come out of Hollywood in the past two decades. Each of them is cozy in how familiar they are, providing all the genre conventions one would expect with clockwork efficiency. But what made them truly special is the aesthetics – the flare, the confidence with which they were put together. They always took the spectacle of beautiful people doing amazing things to another level.
Those are the qualities though that made a project like Ocean’s 8 so daunting. To completely replace the cast (with a couple of exceptions in cameos) and the crew that made the trilogy so compelling presented a risk for the production. This all could have come off as a cheap knock off with a wink every time a reference to the previous films was made. Luckily that is not the case, as Ocean’s 8 is every bit as smart and as fun as Soderbergh’s trilogy.
This time it’s Sandra Bullock in the titular role as Deborah Ocean. Recently released from prison, she, like her brother, has a plan all ready to go and just needs to assemble her team. There are certainly moments that mirror the original, with Bullock paired excellently against Cate Blanchett’s Lou. But the obvious comparisons to Clooney and Pitt are confidently avoided with totally organic chemistry between the two leads that gives the film a different rhythm, avoiding any sense of mugging what came before.
The rest of the cast is excellent as well and, just like the main pair, does not map on perfectly to the older cast. Rihanna’s Nine-Ball for instance is technically in the Livingston role from the first film, but her character is so infused with a different energy that the comparison never takes hold. Nine-Ball is a joy, and Rihanna’s performance is exactly what fans of her persona have come to expect from her.
Next is Sara Paulson as a stay-at-home mom who has never fully exited the thieving life. Awkwafina, in a breakout performance, is the master at sleight of hand. Helena Bonham Carter is a down on her luck fashion designer with all the wonderful quirks we know her for. And Mindy Kaling’s jewelry expert exhibits a cool confidence and sense of humour that gets many of the best punch lines through the film.
The goal here is to steal a $150 million necklace from Anne Hathaway’s Daphne Kluger at the Met Gala. Hathaway also gets to play to the strengths of her public persona as a smarter-than-she-looks diva sick of not being taken seriously or being considered bitchy and out of touch. The rest of the plot is worth experiencing sans-spoilers, but the most important parts to the atmosphere of an Ocean’s film are all there.
There is meticulous planning and preparation with many smaller cons before the gala and a surprise at the end that one could see coming if you were paying attention. But most importantly, the screenwriters recognized the obvious questions raised by the plan and its execution, answering them as the film concludes with clever twists and revelations.
On top of the narrative, costume designer Sarah Edwards deserves an Oscar for dressing these women. Every outfit is stunning and completely tailored to each character’s personality, making for routinely jaw dropping shots of them dressed to the T from beginning to end.
The one weakness here though is the obvious lack of Soderbergh’s eye for rhythm and direction. While Gary Ross is a capable workman director, there are a few moments of clunky editing that don’t let a punchline last as long as it needs to or hold in a montage for longer than necessary. Ross’s script (with co-writer Olivia Milch) is incredibly tight and with a few more passes in the editing room this could have been on the same level as the first of Soderbergh’s films.
Nevertheless, as a longtime fan and frequent re-watcher of Soderbergh’s trilogy, this new installment is a welcome addition to the rotation and is certainly worth the price of admission for fans of the franchise.