Wednesday, July 10, 2013

From My Collection: Out of Sight Movie Review

Out of Sight is quite simply one of the slickest and sexiest films of at least the last two decades. One scene in particular, involving a female Federal Marshal and the bank robber she’s chasing taking a “time out” from their respective responsibilities to fan the flames of passion between them is stylishly edited and beautifully realized. I loved this movie when I first saw it. I loved every minute of it as it played out on the big screen. I loved the smoldering Clooney and the incredibly sexy Lopez; loved the threatening Don Cheadle and the comic relief Steve Zahn; loved the fact that the Clooney and Lopez characters turn some common genre stereotypes on their heads; but mostly I loved the film’s sense of cool stemming from its jazz, funk, soul soundtrack, its sharp dialogue, and Tarantino-esque flair.

And that brings me to the really interesting thing about Out of Sight and its place in 90s cinema. This was director Steven Soderbergh’s second breakout film. He won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and ushered in a new era for indie cinema in America with sex, lies, and videotape but then fell into a creative and commercial morass that almost led him to quit. With Out of Sight he showed definitively that he could bring an indie sensibility and truly creative force to studio films. Out of Sight is so clearly the product of a resurgence in hard-boiled crime stories in the late 90s brought on by the popularity of Pulp Fiction and the adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty, which was itself a success thanks to Tarantino chic. It’s no coincidence that Tarantino’s follow up to Pulp Fiction was Jackie Brown, also an adaptation of a Leonard novel. Out of Sight connects several times to that film with a crossover character and a cameo appearance by Samuel L. Jackson, an actor made world famous by Tarantino having cast him. And let’s not forget that Tarantino’s success was made possible by sex, lies, and videotape. So Soderbergh begets Tarantino and then disappears. Finally, years later, Tarantino begets the resurrection of Soderbergh, bringing it full circle as the student schools the teacher.

Out of Sight is just plain sexy. From the opening funk bass line of The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” that plays over the Universal logo, the stage is set for a relaxed and ultra-cool experience. By the time George Clooney as bank robber Jack Foley climbs into the trunk of a car with Jennifer Lopez’s Karen Sisco, a Federal Marshal, we are hooked. The trunk scene works off the chemistry between the film’s two powerful leads. Clooney wasn’t yet the matinee idol movie star he would become in later years and Lopez had yet to become a pop star. Believe it or not, there was a time when she was a serious actress who garnered well-deserved accolades for her roles in My Family and Selena. As they lay in the trunk of that car, Karen the hostage being held by a suave prison escapee, awaiting her moment to reach for the handgun recently gifted her by her father (Dennis Farina), they discuss old movies – namely Three Days of the Condor, which also involves a romance between dashing kidnapper and hostage.

You can really see Soderbergh’s style developing and gelling in Out of Sight, particularly his penchant for imbuing different locales with their own unique visual style and color palette. Sequences at Lompoc Prison are bleached out, with bright yellows and whites. When the story shifts to Detroit, it’s all cobalt and blue, and the tenor of the soundtrack changes as well from the more jazzy elements of David Holmes’ original score in the Florida scenes to soul and funk – music that is obviously at the heart of Motown. Soderbergh would go on to nearly perfect this style with Traffic two years later. Scott Frank’s adaptation works wonderfully on the screen and the dialogue is top notch. In addition to the trunk scene, there’s also a great sequence set in a Detroit hotel when Foley comes to meet Karen. Their playful banter at the bar is brilliantly intercut with scenes of them undressing in her room (Soderbergh has always been more fascinated with the before and after aspects of sex than with the act itself).

Part of what makes Out of Sight so special is the bevy of great actors filling out key roles. These are the details that can make or break a movie sometimes. There’s Luis Guzman as a fellow prison escapee; Catherine Keener as Foley’s ex-wife; Ving Rhames as Foley’s best friend, partner, and confidante; Steve Zahn hilariously portraying a kind of idiot criminal who gets caught wearing pants that are way too big for him; Albert Brooks cast against type as a Wall Street big shot in prison for financial fraud; Don Cheadle is electric as another inmate; Isaiah Washington is menacing as a brutal criminal in the Detroit sequence; and in a single scene Viola Davis leaves a lasting impression. Each of these actors brings his or her own take on the character. Some of them were known at the time, and the rest are much more known now, but what they all have in common in this film is that they disappear into their roles no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

This is one of those movies in my collection that is just purely pleasurable to watch. It never feels like a lot of work, although that doesn’t mean there’s no complexity. It’s proof positive that movies don’t have to be mass marketed to idiots in order to be entertaining. 

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