Film discussion

Throwback 20: Out of Sight

Twenty years ago, one of the most prominent figures in independent cinema, Steven Soderbergh released what was at that point, his highest-budgeted movie ($48million) for a major studio. A movie starring what was then the world’s biggest TV star and an actress/singer who would go on dominate the music industry in a way that only Madonna had a decade previously. That movie was Out of Sight and those stars were George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. It could have all gone wrong – but it didn’t. The ingredients worked and while there were other action/romance movies released around the same time that didn’t work (I’m looking straight at you Six Days, Seven Nights) everything in Out of Sight did.

Clearly drawing inspiration from the Truffaut films of the 60’s and 70’s and based on the novel by Elmore Leonard, Out of Sight stars George Clooney as Jack Foley, a charismatic con who has made bank robbing his career. Bank robbing seems to be all that matters to him in life but that changes when he encounters federal marshal Karen Sisco during a Florida jailhouse break-out. Foley is so understandably drawn to Karen that he walks closer to her even when she has a shotgun pointed right at him. Foley and his partner Buddy (Ving Rhames) kidnap Karen where Foley then cuddles up to her in the trunk of Buddy’s getaway car. Karen more than knows how to handle herself against the Foley’s of the world – so much so that she’s more concerned about the mud stains on her $900 Chanel outfit than with him messing with her. Foley learns quick that if you mess with Karen, she’ll mess right back. Foley’s then a smitten man.

Complicating matters further for Foley, he finds himself involved in a plan formed by some of his former inmates (ed by a fantastic Don Cheadle) to rob another very wealthy former inmate (Albert Brooks, having a ball) of over $5 million in diamonds. Foley decides to go along with it because why not? Who’s going to stop them?

Karen Sisco. That’s who’s going to stop them.

A note on Lopez as Karen Sisco: She absolutely captivates in the role. Soderbergh might have been the only director in the past 25 years to understand that Lopez does her most expressive acting during her character’s quietest moment. Lopez can communicate a lot with just a tilt of her head, the movements in her eyes, even sometimes just the way she sits completely still. Lopez captures the viewers heart and has them rooting for her as she beats up any goon who tries to get smart with her. Lopez is that good and  it’s a shame she hasn’t found a film project that can fully demonstrate what she can do ever since. Lopez’s last big-screen outing was the Lifetime-ish The Boy Next Door, which is the type of movie Karen Sisco would sneer at. I’m not kidding. Karen has great taste in movies. Lopez, not quite so much. Hopefully this changes soon.

A decade before Out of Sight, Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape featured a smouldering performance by Laura San Giacomo, a performance so blazingly daring and hot, I thought Giacomo was going to melt the 13′ TV I was watching the VHS of Sex, Lies  on. Soderbergh captures a similar performance on film from Lopez in Out of Sight. She’s terrific here and Soderbergh lights Lopez’s perfect face and soft hair the way Hitch used to light Grace Kelly. If Soderbergh never fell in love with Lopez, his camera sure did. Even when the last 45 minutes of Out of Sight switches from golden/orange/sunny Miami to blue, slushy, Detroit, Karen is lit and photographed as a very modern sleuth with style and sharp instincts in equal measure. Lopez portrays Karen as an extremely capable and fierce leather-clad Columbo.

With Out of Sight, Soderbergh (and his DP Elliot Davis) have created and designed a visual treat. Even the movie’s poster invoking the French New Wave is one of the best posters of  the last 20 years.

Clooney creates serious chemistry with Lopez in ways that for whatever reasons, he failed to generate with Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day, Elle McPherson in Batman and Robin and even with Nicole Kidman in The Peacemaker. Either these two are phenomenal actors or that chemistry was real and once you watch their late-night hotel barroom (and bedroom) scene, it’s clear that that these two actors have come to play in Soderbergh’s sandbox and it’s great for us that they did, because watching these two characters seduce each other is mesmerizing.

Besides Clooney and Lopez roasting up the screen, Out of Sight features some other great performances from Catherine Keener, Dennis Farina, Steve Zahn and even Michael Keaton, reprising his role of Ray Nicolet from Jackie Brown. Out of Sight which was released six months after Jackie Brown and reminds us of how bloated that first movie was. At 120 minutes Out of Sight zips along smoothly thanks to a taut script by Scott Frank (Dead Again, Minority Report, Logan).

Out of Sight is a snazzy crime/thriller/romance/comedy that scores in all those areas and when it’s over, you marvel at how it managed to all work so well.

Soderbergh must have loved the box-office returns for Out of Sight as the next year, he was directing Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Traffic and the year after that, Ocean’s Eleven, (then Twelve and naturally Thirteen) and Magic Mike (2013). Of course, he did not turn his back on indie film making. In fact, just this year, Soderbergh released Unsane shot entirely on an iPhone 7.

Think of what magic he could create if he got the Out of Sight gang back together for three weeks with that iPhone in his hand. I would wager that the end result would be a movie Karen Sisco would become a big fan of.

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