Discussion of this continuity reboot of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy, itself a remake of a 1960 Frank Sinatra all-star heist movie, will inevitably focus on the gender flipping of the cast. Gone are the dongs, enter the foofs. Chief amongst them: Sandra Bullock as the hitherto unmentioned sister of George Clooney’s Penis Ocean, who, like her brother before her, is a career criminal that plans a robbery while incarcerated and gets to work on assembling a team to execute it the moment she’s released. The structure of these movies is in the genes.
Is it fair to focus on the female cast? As it’s a conscious decision by the filmmakers to retool the formula, brandishing its feminine side, absolutely. And the first and most important thing to say is that it’s an unreconstructed take on female subjectivity and characterisation. No find and replace approach here. Apparently the thinking went something like this: women are interested in the superficial – fashion, jewellery, beauty and celebrity, and positively consumed by hatred for ex-male partners, who, in a direct appeal to the untapped half of the potential audience, are perfidious shits who deserve their scorn and vengeance. The plot is shaped accordingly. Casinos are out, celebrity dinners are in. Gangsters and mob bosses make way for a vain Hollywood glamourpuss. And while the girls are working out the mechanics of the theft, and what information to withhold for the end of Act 2 and epilogue stinger, there’s time for fun stuff like dating on Tinder and painting nails.
Does it matter? Well, the central relationship between Bullock’s Ocean and Cate Blanchett’s Lou seldom passes the Bechdel test; her relationship with Richard Armitage’s art dealer being a plot driver – “the job within a job” as Blanchett notes; and that’s a pity as it suggests, along with the rest of the movie’s preoccupations, that all concerned couldn’t conceive of a female Ocean’s movie without these clichéd lady-signifiers. If, as Bullock suggests, the point was to pull off a heist where women’s societal invisibility acted as camouflage, then surely the thing to do would be to choose a traditional male arena, say a bank or casino, instead of an event associated with style and glamour? If I were James Corden’s investigator, I know which venues and social calendar dates I’d have my eye on.
The real problem with Ocean’s 8 however, is that for all the surface tinkering there’s nothing new on offer. Those familiar with the last Ocean’s trilogy and indeed the BBC’s rip off, Hustle, that ran for several series, will know the shape, sound and style of the film like an old friend. Gary Ross, a veteran director with a rock solid pedigree, delivers a grounded and entertaining movie, designed to be watched passively and once, which might have benefited from lashings of conspicuous stylisation, some challenging complications for the gang (a waiter stopping to have a chat is about as difficult and unexpected as it gets), and some high stakes.
Besides getting revenge on her ex, it’s hard to see what the point of Bullock’s elaborate jewellery theft is, other than to make a shit load of money. Nothing wrong with that you say, and it’s fun while it lasts, but as failure wouldn’t materially affect any of the characters, or indeed endanger them in any way (assuming they avoided detection), it’s hard to care whether they succeed or not, success being a foregone conclusion. In short, the movie’s one long act of misdirection – a story that purports to have a USP, and high stakes, but has neither. It turns out the audience were the marks all along.