A lovely time of a missed opportunity.
I was on board for this idea: an all-female (sequel? Soft reboot?) of Steven Soderbergh‘s comedy heist movie series which began with Ocean’s Eleven. Clearly so, too, is the cast: Sandra Bullock, a gleefully purring Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway maintaining her streak of never appearing in a movie, even a questionable one, where she wasn’t just great, and the rest of the outstanding ensemble bring talent and a feeling of fun to things, in just the way George Clooney, Brad Pitt and their buddies did in the previous three films. What’s missing in Ocean’s Eight, however, is an overall style – and one need not compare this film to Soderbergh’s to see that. But I will.
While there’s plenty to look at in Cate Blanchett’s wardrobe and cheekbones alone (I have it on good authority she turned every straight woman who saw her in this film), and in Rihanna‘s gift for stealing every scene with her mere presence (in what reality, my mother asked, would she be invisible enough, even while dressed as a janitor, to slip past anyone unnoticed, much less not be immediately offered a job on the spot as face of her own bazillion-dollar cosmetics line?), the film itself has no visual swagger, or even sashay or merely shimmy – and in a heist movie, and especially in an Ocean’s movie, the cinematic style is the MVP of the team.
Given the level of talent involved, and how up-for-it everyone involved seems to be, the execution of Ocean’s Eight is unforgivably workman-like.
Cinematographer Eigil Bryld certainly makes some stylish moves – and there are certain zooms, pans and angles totally in the style of the genre – but these are (often literally) cut short, either by Juliette Welfling‘s editing or Gary Ross‘ direction. Where unusual or even experimental sequences could complement chicanery or energize exposition, the film defers to much more standard shot-reverse shot, robbing itself of any real fun at any point.
To illustrate this point, I’ll compare two scenes which aren’t actually fairly comparable – one is an “assembling the team” scene, the other a hacking scene – but the first is an example of brisk storytelling of Ocean’s Eleven, which delights in taking a moment to reveal what we’re looking at, while the second shows how slowly and relatively un-delightfully things unfold in Ocean’s Eight by comparison:
In under a minute, and within three key shots, we get: an introduction to what a “greaseman” might be; more idea of the characters of and relationship between Danny and Rusty; fun visual spectacle, which will also be relevant later on in the film; and some personality in the film making, where the shot-reverse isn’t character vs character, but pair-of-characters vs circus-show.
This isn’t even the full scene: Ocean’s Eight spends three minutes showing what Sandra Bullock’s character explained in a single line one scene earlier: we need to hack the security camera to create a blind spot in which to heist. It’s pedestrian, even flabby – particularly when Soderbergh would have shown it in under three cuts, probably with surprising, fun and clever reframing within each shot.
While Ocean’s Eight doesn’t need to look or move the way its predecessors did, it could be more fun. It seems to linger on the more boring moments, and skip over the fun it could be having with its characters and, most importantly, its setting. The heist is set at the Met Gala, so we have a reason to spend time gazing at the fashion, celebrity and opulence – and yet even the cameos are more blink-and-you’ll-miss-them than cheeky surprises (think back to the cast of celebrities attending Brad Pitt’s card-playing class – particularly Topher Grace, with his recurring role in the sequels).
If it’s an all-female reboot, why not hire a female director too?
Ocean’s Eight could (should) have been helmed by a young, hungry auteur, who could bring visual style to proceedings. The studio could have even, Disney- and Marvel-style, promoted a hotshot young indie filmmaker who’d make the most of a bigger budget, and draw more character moments out of a cast of A-list stars who seem up for shenanigans, and yet are roundly under-utilised. With this much talent involved, Ocean’s Eight has no excuse for being this unremarkable.