‘Ocean’s 8’ Lacks Tension, But Has Style to Spare

This heist doesn’t get thrilling, but it does get kind of fun

by Philbert Dy

  Ocean’s 8 introduces us to Debra Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister to Danny, and incarcerated felon just up for parole. As soon as she gets out, she gets in touch with her criminal buddy Lou (Cate Blanchett), and ropes her into a plan that she’s been cooking up in all her time in prison. The two put together a team to pull an audacious heist at one of New York’s biggest events: the Met Gala. The plan involves stealing a 150-million dollar diamond necklace off the neck of A-list actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), and perhaps doling out some revenge on the guy that put Debra in prison.

 

Ocean’s 8 is a heist movie, though it might be best to see it as something else. It’s just a little too relaxed to function properly as a heist film. It does a fair job of mimicking the style and the comfort of the first three Ocean’s movies, but doesn’t really seem all that concerned with generating the same kind of internal tension.  So, the pleasures of the film come not from the heist, but from simply watching this cast of characters hang out and do stuff together. And putting it through the lens of a relaxed, hang-out movie, the charms of this film come through a little harder.

The heist isn’t particularly elaborate, though there are quite a few requisite twists and turns. What’s lacking is any sense that our protagonists might fail. In the best heist movies, though we are almost always assured that the heroes are going to get away with the crime, there is at least some illusion that things are going wrong. That just isn’t the case here. The few obstacles to their success feel like tiny hiccups, and there’s little of the thrill of watching our heroes improvise their way through an unforeseen struggle.

 

That said, it is difficult to deny the appeal of the film. The simple presence of all these actors on screen all together is formidable enough. But there’s a little more to it than that. While the heist plot may not produce high level thrills, it creates a context that lets their distinct personalities shine through. Again, it might be best to see this film as a hang-out picture: just a relaxed, good time that lets us into the company of some really interesting, compelling personalities. This film, for all its flaws, has that in spades.

Where the film really pales in comparison to its predecessors is a glaring lack of a rebellious spirit. There is certainly a seed of something in the film’s all-female casting, but it doesn’t grow into anything more substantial. Director and co-writer Gary Ross just doesn’t seem to have the same verve for hiding subversive thinking underneath his glossy entertainment that Soderbergh has. There are moments where it feels like the movie just feels like a less interesting cover version of the original. Having said that, the power of the cast goes a long way in glossing over the film’s weaknesses.

 

Ocean’s 8 is fine, and only really suffers when you end up comparing it to the original films. Taken on its own, it’s a stylish, fun little hang-out film that happens to feature some truly remarkable talent in the cast. The film’s connection to the previous series actually hurts it, as one is compelled to remember the fizzier, more substantial pleasures of the first and third films (let us not talk about Ocean’s 12). But this is far from a bad film. In its best moments, you can just revel in the fun that everyone seems to be having working together. That’s not nothing.