Directed by Gary Ross
Seventeen years ago Steven Soderbergh and his team gave us the mighty and beautiful and charming and funny and infinitely re-watchable Oceans 11. One of the handful of remakes over the past century of Hollywood history that overshadows the original, a mind-melting cast of new comers and A-listers, a perfect score by David Holmes, a perfect screenplay, Steven Soderbergh's classic cinematography, Ocean's 11 looked amazing, sounded amazing, is amazing. It is a near perfect film. Followed by two sequels that some of us have deep affection for. They may never hit the heights of the first film, but damn, they are the definition of entertainment. And here we are eleven years since Ocean's 13 and we have a spin off. A fun but bland, charming but poorly constructed spin off, but, hey it's another Ocean's movie.
First, though, before we go all negative and dance on the corpse of the hubris that thought that a spin off of one of the more beloved film franchises of Ever could be done on the cheap, let's talk about what works. And what works is the cast. Led by Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean, Danny's never before mentioned sister, and Cate Blanchett as Lou, Debbie's partner, Ocean's 8 also stars Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Awkwafina, Rihanna, and Anne Hathaway. That's four Oscars, two Emmys, eight Grammys, six Golden Globes, five BAFTAS, and ten SAG awards combined. Jesus on a cracker, that's a lot of talent. Anyway, Ocean's 8's prime asset is its cast. They elevate a script, a cinematographer, and a director that are not up to the challenge. But more on that later. Back to the cast. One of the charms of Ocean's 8 is watching established Serious Actresses play straight so that the lesser known cast members can shine, can steal film moments and become memorable.
The cast has such a comfort level, has such a relaxed way about them, it's like watching a master class on ensemble acting. With all that is wrong with Ocean's 8, and there is some and we will get to it, don't worry, with all that is wrong with Ocean's 8, this cast elevates the movie, makes it far more fun and exciting and charming and thrilling than it should be. They make Ocean's 8 a movie to see rather than the almost ran it could have been. They make you want to spend some time in their world.
Now, what is wrong with Ocean's 8? Where to start? Oh, boy, where to start?
Let's start with a screenplay that somehow feels both unfinished and like it was written by committee. Overstuffed with references to the original, and poorly written, it comes off as both overly ambitious for someone of little skill and, at the same time, as overly lazy. It's a hell of a feat. One of my personal pet peeves in a movie is hearing the phrase "as you know". If the character already knows why are you telling them? It's lazy. No-one talks that way. As you know, I am writing about Ocean's 8. As you know, I write light movie criticism from the point of view of a film geek rather than someone who will criticize the mise en scene. As you know, these things are way too long and I need to find a way to make them shorter. I can't tell you how much hearing "as you know" takes me out of a movie. Find another way to convey information to the audience. It may take some effort, but, come on Hollywood screenwriters, expand a little effort. Anyway, this was a long winded rant to complain that "as you know" is said at least twice, maybe three times, in Ocean's 8. In fact, it's the very first line in the movie.
Go back to the 2001 Ocean's 11, watch that opening. Danny Ocean is introduced at his parole hearing. And what do we never hear? "As you know". What do we learn? He is a career criminal who has only been caught once. That his wife has left him. That he is charming and quick witted. Ocean's 8 begins with Debbie Ocean at her parole hearing. Which, okay, might be lazy or might be a way to bracket the two films. But the first line is "as you know". And, again, if she knows, why are you telling her, faceless parole board person? Enough of the "as you know" rant. Until the next time it is used more than once in a film.
Where to go to next? The lifeless cinematography? Or the confused editing? Let's hit the editing. Just enough to point out that when the movie is over and you're walking out into the sunshine it will suddenly hit you that Mindy Kaling was in two places at the same time. And no-one involved in the editing of Ocean's 8 caught that. Neither did the director. Nor any of the producers. Did no-one watch this thing before they unleashed in on the public?
Ocean's 8 is a flat and lifeless looking film. Like, a high-end industrial training film. It isn't that the cinematography and camera work is incompetent, it's that it is just competent enough. I know that Steven Soderbergh is one of a kind, that it takes great skill and talent to be Steven Soderbergh. But if you're going to spin off from a Steven Soderbergh property, please, for the love of all that is holy, put some damn effort into your film making. I'm not saying that Gary Ross is a bad director, it's that he is, well, bland. And watching Ocean's 8 I couldn't help but think of what this movie would look and feel like if there was someone inspired by the material behind the camera. Just look at what Patty Jenkins did with Wonder Woman. And then take a glance at what Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder did with the same setting in Justice League. That is the difference between inspiration and waiting for the cheque to clear. It is the difference between the Ocean's 11 and Ocean's 8.
But, personally, I could have nearly forgiven all of Ocean's 8's sins if it wasn't for the atrocious score by Daniel Pemberton. He did such good work on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Steve Jobs. This score, though, sounds like a poor man's idea of what a David Holmes score sounds like. And it underscores all the blandness in Ocean's 8. It draws attention to the lack of care and effort that went into making Oceans's 8.
But, you're asking while avoiding work, is Ocean's 8 worth seeing? And if it wasn't for the cast I would say avoid it like stone washed jeans. But, like I wrote up above somewhere, the cast makes this movie, they make this thing worth seeing. The cast does all of the heavy lifting in this movie. They bring the charm and the humour and class to a movie where no-one else seemed to care. See it for them. They make it fun.