‘Ocean’s 8’ lacking in style compared to past films

Andrew Shermoen

An all-female cast dazzles in the newest entry to the “Ocean’s” heist film franchise, but their talent only barely elevates a film in which director Gary Ross is unable to live up to former director Steven Soderbergh’s style and poise.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has been in prison for five years and eight months. The younger sister of Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney in the three previous “Ocean’s” films), she is a master thief and con-woman who has been planning one of the biggest heists in all time. The job: convince actress and honorary chair Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear the Toussaint, a $150 million dollar necklace, during the Met Gala, which they will then steal off her neck. After recruiting her former partner-in-crime Lou (Cate Blanchett), the pair determines that the job will take at least seven members to pull off. They recruit fence and profiteer turned suburban mom Tammy (Sarah Paulson), pickpocketing skateboard aficionado Constance (Awkwafina), skilled jeweler and appraiser Amita (Mindy Kaling), a hacker called Nine Ball (Rihanna), and has-been fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), whose job is designing Kluger’s dress and convincing her to wear the Toussaint. They only have a week to square everything away, and Debbie has other plans of revenge during the heist that she hasn’t told her crew yet.

The “Ocean’s” movies, especially the first in the series, “Ocean’s 11,” are some of the best heist films out there, thanks to director Steven Soderbergh’s carefree, divine style that not only brings life to the eleven characters at the center of his films’ plots, but also to the heists themselves. His presentation of elaborate missions is done with careful, confident attention to detail. Gary Ross, director of “Ocean’s 8” doesn’t pull off the same stylized, charming storytelling. Soderbergh is an auteur, after all, so I never expected Ross to blow him out of the water, but “Ocean’s 8” doesn’t even succeed with charm and humor as the past “Ocean’s” films. When Ross does try to throw some charm and dazzle on the screen, it mainly comes from unsuccessfully aping past “Ocean’s” films. It doesn’t really feel like an homage. It feels like a bad forgery. It’s certainly better than “Ocean’s 12,” which is pretty jarring in its goofy plotting, but it doesn’t hold a candle to “11” or “13.” Soderbergh’s films are heist comedies and, while “Ocean’s 8” has jokes, none of them have the punch of the past films.

The actors are certainly trying. Hathaway is a delight playing what is ostensibly a parody of the very thing some toxic people on the internet claim she is. In a way, the performance lends itself to allowing Hathaway to lash back and criticize the people who for years thought she was just a vapid, self-obsessed jerk. Her being aware of this persona and completely embracing it within this character not only feels like a direct condemnation of people who claimed her to be that way, but shows so much self-confidence in taking ownership of the inaccurate caricature. The moments Hathaway is on screen are an absolute delight, especially when sharing the light with Carter, whose frazzled, tired and ill-equipped crime novice of a seamstress is fantastic. Hathaway and Carter bounce off each other like they were made to share the screen and tons of missed comedic opportunities between the two of them probably could have made up for the film’s lack of humor.

Sarah Paulson and Awkwafina also run away with the movie. Paulson’s flustered suburban mom who just can’t quit her crime lifestyle is pretty hilarious, despite being a role we see in movies quite a lot. Paulson just has an energy to her, and there’s something so mesmerizing and likeable about how she does the role. Most of the time this character trope is used as the mother going back to crime to escape a mundane home life. Paulson clearly loves her family, but the idea of getting back into her old job is exciting to her. Awkwafina is definitely the grab bag for jokes in the movie. Her street smart personality is infectiously likable, and her ability to turn a phrase and make every moment into a joke feels akin to the smart-alec attitudes many of the thieves in the first trilogy of movies have.

The rest of the cast picks up the lackluster script as best they can. Bullock and Blanchett are fantastic as usual, but their characters aren’t so different from Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan from the earlier films; both performances are solid, but Ross has sadly put them in highly derivative roles. Rihanna and Mindy Kaling do a lot with what they are given, but don’t get much chance for impact because Ross barely uses their characters. Both of these women give off an aura of charisma in their everyday life, but Ross uses them mainly just to advance the plot, and they barely get any time to show off their acting abilities and comedic potential.

Instead of giving Kaling and Rihanna more time, we get a final act featuring the consistently unfunny James Corden swooping in as an insurance fraud investigator. The movie’s nearly two-hour run time unfortunately gives fewer jokes to Rihanna and more to late night television’s least charismatic host.

“Ocean’s 8” lacks the cinematic flair and confident style of past films in the franchise, but the directorial choices are more to blame than the actual performances of the dazzling and charming cast members. That which does work in the movie comes from them. If this female-led film had also been directed by a woman, I have no doubt it would have been much better.