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.
Ocean’s 8 (12A) ***
In the Fade (15) ***
Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (15) ***
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 its 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-dollar 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 a Who’s Who of the rich and famous, or, if you’re not plugged into society pages of Vogue, a who-cares? list of various 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 (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 will be 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 the 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.
In the Fade sees Diane Kruger give a commanding performance as a woman with vengeance on her mind after her ex-con going-straight husband and child are killed in a terrorists attack by far right extremists in Germany. Arthouse auteur Fatih Akin isn’t interested in following standard genre beats, which in this case is a bit of a shame. Breaking the film into three distinct sections, his efforts to grapple with the implications of violent extremism and the limitations of the legal system to adequately deal with it don’t provide the requisite complexity to justify the film’s longueurs and it’s only when Kruger’s character takes the law into her own hands – with a driving score by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme — that it properly comes to life.
Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat is an intriguing companion piece to last year’s epic, similarly titled retrospective at the Barbican in London. Instead of trying to rush through the entirety of his all-too-brief life and career, however, director Sara Driver zeroes in on his early, pre-fame years as a peripatetic teenager in New York who charmed his way into the underground art scene by moving freely among the bankrupt city’s punks, writers, no-wave filmmakers and nascent hip-hop artists. Basquiat himself is a bit of a ghost in the film, with archival footage of him kept to a minimum. But having assembled a decent array of Basquiat’s friends, associates and general scenesters – Jim Jarmusch, Fab 5 Freddy, ‘Lee’ George Quinones – his absence works to this modest film’s advantage, turning it instead into a kind of abstract portrait of an elusive young artist who harnessed all this disparate creative energy and transformed it into something exciting and new. ■