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In the Ocean's series of heist movies, Danny Ocean and his gang adopted a modified version of the Robin Hood principle. They robbed from the rich but any idea of giving to the poor stopped at their own wallets.
With Ocean's 8, Danny is out of the picture and the mantle has been passed to his sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock), who's just served five years in gaol for fraud, having used her time inside to plan a robbery that is supposed to rival her brother's work at its most baroque, and, in line with the times, she's recruited an all-female crew.
I doubt that this gender switch is going to cause the series' most avid fans to react with the indignation that Ghostbusters die-hards displayed when that film's all-woman remake appeared. But if so, so what. Director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games), who's taken over from Steven Soderbergh, has kept things cool and dry and the banter flows just as smoothly. The camera work glides along to the rhythms of a soundtrack filled with pop hits and the centrepiece is a jewel heist staged at New York's classiest party, the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Ball.
To add a little more piquancy to the inside jokes that embellish the script, one of the gang is played by Rihanna, who headlined the event in 2016 when Andrew Rossi anatomised it in his documentary, The First Monday in May.
Ross filmed much of Ocean's 8 inside the Met and the ball's mastermind, Anna Wintour makes a couple of appearances. A known tennis obsessive, she's shown in one scene at her laptop, taking time out to watch her favourite player, Roger Federer, at work.
In keeping with its setting, it's a film high on fashion, some of it satirical. In that spirit, the costume department gleefully exploits Helena Bonham Carter's willingness to wear anything, the more outlandish the better, by enveloping her in an assortment of layered garments topped with funny hats. She's cast as Rose Weil, a dress designer who joins the gang because she's desperately in need of a cash infusion, and Cate Blanchett is here, too, playing Debbie's chief lieutenant. She scores the most glamorous wardrobe, heavy on leather, leopard prints and bling. And she gets to ride a motorcycle.
Ironically, the most straight-faced member of the group is Bullock. As the mastermind of the scheme, she can't go pratfalling all over the screen, but she can afford a smile or two. As it is, her extreme degree of coolness gives her all the charm of an ice-pick.
As with most heist movies, much of the fun is in the planning and the hiring. A jeweller, a fence, a hacker and a con artist adept at sleight-of-hand complete the gang, who have a multimillion-dollar diamond necklace from Cartier in their sights. It will be worn to the ball by Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), a movie star who's been inveigled into accepting a dress designed by Rose.
From this point, it's all in the timing and the deployment, with more sleight-of-hand displayed in glossing over the script's many improbabilities. You go along with it because the group generates a strong sense of camaraderie – indispensable to any successful heist movie with a comic tilt to it – and because the pace never falters. And there are enough ingenious touches in the details that power the scheme to convey the temporary illusion that there's a trace of logic attached to it.
They're the same elements that launched the series in 1960 when it was conceived as a showcase for the macho spirit of Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack. It's a durable formula, as well as an adaptable one. And this time the climax is played out amid the glories of the Met's Temple of Dendur, where the ball is held. Here, the choreography of the scam is almost upstaged by the gang's costume changes. They're spectacular. At least their effect is. How they're achieved is another question that goes unanswered. The whole film is a con trick, but a good one.
Sandra Hall is the author of two novels (A Thousand Small Wishes and Beyond the Break), two histories of the Australian television industry (Supertoy and Turning On, Turning Off) and Tabloid Man, a biography of Ezra Norton, the man who established Truth and The Daily Mirror. She was film critic at The Bulletin magazine prior to joining The Sydney Morning Herald in 1996.
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