Film review: Ocean’s 8

Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter and Sandra Bullock in Ocean's 8
Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter and Sandra Bullock in Ocean's 8
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Just as George Clooney floated out of her orbit in the opening scenes of Gravity, Sandra Bullock finds herself once again bidding adieu to the silver-haired charmer in Ocean’s 8. In this mostly female spin-off from the Clooney-led heist franchise, Bullock plays Danny Ocean’s sister, Debbie, whose first action after being newly paroled from prison is to visit a funeral home to pay tribute to her (apparently) dear departed brother.

That the film should dispense with Clooney’s character in such amusingly curt fashion feels appropriate. Not only does it echo the way Ocean’s 13 summarily ditched Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta Jones from the series to focus exclusively on the guys, it serves as a bit of a mission statement for the film itself: when you have the likes of Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett heading an all-star cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson and pop-star Rihanna, you don’t need male stars to have a good time.

Nor do you need much of a script. Like it’s predecessors, this is easy, breezy blockbuster fare, powered by the charisma of its stars rather than the acuteness of its characterisation. It’s the sort of film best watched in an indulgent frame of mind, where the characters are so damn likeable that even the authorities seem to be rooting for them to get away with their heist.

That heist involves robbing a $150 million necklace from spoiled starlet Daphne Kluger (Hathaway) during the highpoint of New York’s social calendar: the Met Gala, an elaborately glitzy affair attended by Who’s-Who list of the rich and famous, or, if you’re not plugged into society pages of Vogue, a who-cares? list of over-privileged high-fliers. Debbie has spent the previous five years in prison planning this heist to perfection and, along with her partner, Lou (Blanchett), quickly sets about recruiting a team that can pull it off. They include a jeweller (Kaling), a fashion designer (Bonham Carter), a hacker (Rihanna), a pick-pocket (Awkwafina) and a former fence turned bored housewife (Sarah Paulson). Those keeping score will realise that’s only six; the identity of the other two team members functioning as plot twists, albeit hardly jaw-dropping ones.

Still, the fact that Debbie requires fewer colleagues than her brother is the unacknowledged joke of the film: women are more efficient at getting the job done. Sadly, anyone hoping for a sharp feminist rebuke to Hollywood’s gender imbalance might be left disappointed. Leaving aside the reasoning behind Debbie’s pointed refusal to recruit any guys (her sly speech about being a role model for all the eight-year-old girls out there who dream of being criminals is also pretty funny), the film is content to let the casting do the talking. Even with a downsized team, however, some of that cast (particularly Blanchett, oddly enough) feel a bit underserved by the material as it oohs and aaahs at all the dresses and diamonds on display.

It also misses the directorial elan Steven Soderbergh brought to the series. He remains on board as a producer, but director Gary Ross, who made the first Hunger Games movie and co-wrote this film with Olivia Milch, doesn’t make it pop the way it could or should. It leaves you wondering why they didn’t hire a female director to have a crack at reinvigorating the franchise instead. Sure, as a caper movie it’s undeniably fun and it gets away with a lot thanks to the nature of the genre, but with this cast and a more exciting director it could have got away with a whole lot more than ditching George Clooney.

Oceans 8 is in cinemas from Monday, 18 June