- Review by Patrick Byrne
This review will come off as a nit-pick, but none of that will be my fault. Generally speaking it takes a lot longer to explain why something is not as entertaining as it could be than why it is and Ocean’s Eight, for all of its merits, feels a bit thin. I need to make clear that I have no strong opinion whatsoever of the Ocean’s movies, I have long since forgotten the first two, and only recently seen the third. This is a review by an outsider, not a fan, and will not be concerned with measuring this movie against any of the previous ones. It will be concerned only with explaining why such a clever, fast paced, well-acted and plot-heavy movie like Ocean’s Eight feels this light and frothy.
Ocean’s Eight follows Debbie Ocean (effortlessly played by Sandra Bullock) as she gathers together a crack team of professional swindlers to pull off a major jewel robbery, and it’s worth the ticket price. The ensemble cast are all enjoying themselves, and are all perfectly solid. Bullock and Cate Blanchett (Ocean’s partner in crime, Lou) especially feel as if they’ve pulled off a thousand jobs together. There is a heist plot that’s perfectly coherent by heist movie standards, and the movie looks great, and it’s funny. The issue with it is a lot less obvious, namely that the plot and the characters do not interact in an especially fulfilling way.
While it is inherently unfair to compare any movie to Lawrence of Arabia, it’s characters also pull off a dangerous plot; taking the port of Aqaba from the Ottoman army. The difference I want to highlight is that in this film, unlike in Ocean’s Eight, each stage in the development and execution of this plan is in itself a piece of character development. Lawrence’s plan to attack Aqaba shows us how much more decisive and brave he is becoming, Ali’s decision to go with him shows the developing trust between them. The difficulty they face in crossing the Nefud desert shows us some of Lawrence’s weaknesses, his ability to convince Tayi to fight alongside them shows how streetwise he is becoming, etc. Strengths in the plan are character strengths, and the plan goes awry when characters do.
Ocean’s Eight has a different approach to the conspiracy at its centre. In a film with such a large ensemble and not much screen-time or dialogue to go around, there isn’t an especially interesting amount of character development, what the characters contribute to the viewing experience is the inherent entertainment value of their individual quirks. All the jewel-heist is to any character, with the exception of Ocean, is either just another job or an incredibly lucrative job. We do not witness each detail of the heist-plan as the characters, through their own personal arcs, influence the way things go. The full details of the heist-plan are not clear until the end of the film, rather the slow exposition of how exactly the plan is playing out is what keeps us engaged.
This is still entertaining but in nowhere near as full blooded a manner as would a more thorough engagement with our characters in the manner described above be. Add to that a quite boringly happy ending, and an excess of magic technology and magic hacking skills to get our characters from A to B, and the end product just isn’t especially impressive, even if the pace, plot and performance were enough to keep me engaged.