Ocean’s 8: Female-Fronted Heist Dramedy Good as the Sum of its Parts

By Kim Hughes

Rating: A-

Walking into an advance screening of Ocean’s 8 this week was a genuinely unnerving experience. 

So much seemed to be riding on this exquisitely cast film based on director Steven Soderbergh's terrific Ocean’s series which itself was based on the terrific 1960s Rat Pack film. 

Really, heaps could go wrong. Heist films are inherently dicey and won or lost by suspension of disbelief, especially in the 21st century where security systems are, shall we say, rather sophisticated and intensely fortified. And we already know from 2016’s Ghostbusters that simply overlaying a female cast on a previously winning formula isn't a sureshot. 

Sisters doing it for themselves...

Sisters doing it for themselves...

But that old saw about worry being interest paid on a debt you may not owe happily holds true with Ocean’s 8, which is buckets of eye-popping fun even if that before-mentioned bit about suspension of disbelief holds very, very true. Dial down your inner cynic and enjoy the ride.

The plot reimagines the Ocean’s 11 premise with some chick-y twists and several sly winks to its latter-day forebear. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister to also-felonious Danny Ocean, is sprung from prison having hatched a comprehensive plan to rob not a casino but New York’s famed and frou-frou Met Gala. Specifically, Debbie has her sights set on a $150 million diamond necklace on loan to a famous actress in attendance (Anne Hathaway). 

To pull it off, Debbie and sidekick Lou (Cate Blanchett parroting a weird Aussie/Yankee hybrid accent) must assemble a crack team of criminals to organize and execute the job, among them a jeweller (Mindy Kaling), a sleight-of-hand ace (Awkwafina), a fence (Sarah Paulson), a fashion designer (Helena Bonham Carter) and a hacker (Rihanna in a spirited bit of stunt casting, given the fashionista singer’s bonkers real-life connection to the Met Gala).

The thrill of the film (and the series) is that these criminals seem so damn cool, aspirational even. Who wouldn’t want to be able to pull off amazing feats of skulduggery using high-tech toys and plain old-fashioned chutzpah alongside a kick-ass team rocking righteous designer threads? 

Everyone is precisely cast, from Rihanna to Bonham Carter, who expertly marshals an even battier version of the real Betsey Johnson. James Corden as a sleuthing insurance investigator is the film’s token male (ha ha… how kooky is it to write that!). And while Bullock’s Debbie Ocean seems curiously low-wattage, there’s enough residual dazzle among her castmates to keep everything percolating. (And we’ll forgive Bullock almost anything; 54 next month, she looks luminous). 

Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) doubtless cribbed notes about form from Soderbergh who produced Ocean’s 8. Though I was also reminded of Peter Bogdanovich’s screwball What’s Up Doc? from 1972, especially at the start when, using just her wits and a phone, the larcenous Debbie transforms herself from just-sprung jailbird to metropolitan fox staying in fancy hotel with a few simple steps. 

It’s just one of many crackling sequences that make Ocean’s 8 supremely watchable even when its probability falters. The fizzy summer season is officially underway.

Ocean’s 8. Directed by Gary Ross. Starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, and Helena Bonham Carter. Opens wide June 8.