Blu-ray Review: OUT OF SIGHT - Entertaining & Stylish 90's Soderbergh Caper

The two central scenes of Steven Soderbergh€™s highly entertaining 1998 flick Out Of Sight are of George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez crammed into the trunk of a car, and the same couple flirting with each other in a classy bar. In the former scene, fate (/screenwriting) brings the two together; he a bank robber freshly escaped from prison, she a federal marshal they had to abduct at the last minute. In the bar scene, they put their respective livelihoods on hold and allow themselves a €˜time out€™ to see what it might be like had they met under different circumstances. Lopez, playing Karen Sisco, is approached by a series of lonely businessmen whom she all politely declines before Clooney €“ playing Jack Foley €“ appears, reflected in the mirror, Zippo lighter in his hand. Both scenes are movie-literate; the pair connects in the trunk through a discussion about €œBonnie & Clyde,€ and in the bar their discussion is intercut with their lovemaking later that evening, a variation on the famous sex scene from €œDon€™t Look Now.€ And while Out of Sight is as interested in character as action, they are both undoubtedly movie characters; George Clooney in particular has the kind of charm as the lead that suggests he never gets hurt, even in prison, and he isn€™t lighting his Zippo with a click of his fingers because it€™s compulsive or useful €“ he€™s doing it because it€™s cool. The movie, which is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, mainly keeps the two characters apart; he is planning another job, she is planning to stop him. The €˜time-out€™ scene, along with a fantasy scene, represent moments when they are permitted to step away from the roles that dictate that they cannot be together. This kind of star-crossed romance could be tragic, but despite its notes of melancholy the movie leans towards comedy. If it€™s hard to define it€™s simply because it isn€™t slavish to one genre, and like Leonard€™s fiction is alert to the messiness of real life. This isn€™t to say the movie is realistic, but is a reminder than realism in movies is always a relative concept. The screenplay, adapted by Scott Frank, is non-chronological, which is not just a stylish conceit but allows the flashback scenes to have greater resonance. It opens with one of Foley€™s various bank robberies, in which characteristically he doesn€™t use a gun and is so charming to the teller one can imagine people in the audience thinking, gosh, I wish someone like that would rob me. It is also the robbery for which he gets caught, and most of the earlier scenes take place in a prison. This was the movie with which Clooney really broke free from his TV background and became a fully fledged movie star. He was extremely well-paired with Jennifer Lopez; they brought out the best in each other, and it is a pity that her career, unlike Clooney€™s, has not lived up to that promise. Another key figure, of course, is Steven Soderbergh, who throughout his career has been able to balance troubling dramas like King of the Hill and Traffic with more mainstream, stylised affairs like The Limey, Ocean€™s 11 and this picture. There is a hint of Tarantino, not just in the structure but also in the fact that Tarantino had made his own Leonard adaptation, Jackie Brown, the previous year, a fact Soderbergh acknowledges by giving Michael Keaton a cameo in this movie in the same role he played for Tarantino. However unlike Soderbergh€™s €œOcean€™s€ movies (which also started with Clooney in a prison jumpsuit) and indeed unlike most of the work Tarantino has done since 1997, the pleasure does not start and end with stylistic flourishes. The characters endear themselves to us despite being extremely questionable on a moral level. As well as Clooney and Soderbergh the movie has excellent supporting turns from Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn and Albert Brooks and some excellent camerawork and editing (the editor, Anne V. Coates, has edited 52 movies since 1952, among them €œLawrence of Arabia€). It demonstrates how dull and formulaic most crime movies are, and it is proof that a movie can know perfectly well that it is a shallow entertainment but still inspire fun, surprises, sadness and laughter. Out of Sight was released on Blu-ray this week.
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I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.