OUT OF SIGHT (1998; no ranking)

There’s a pantheon of ‘cool’ movies made in the 1990s. Tarantino, of course, springs instantly to mind with ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’. Then you have ‘The Usual Suspects’ and ‘The Big Lebowski’. The era (at least the 90’s era) probably ended with ‘Fight Club.’

These are movies that walk, talk, act, live, and breathe cool. The dialogue is smooth and the attitude is cold. It’s better to die cool, in these films, than live uncool.

It’s a wonder, then, that the 1998 Steven Soderbergh film ‘Out of Sight’ does not often get credited in these discussions. For one, the source material was written by Elmore Leonard, a novelist whose books are a mecca of cool. For another, it stars one of the modern era’s torchbearers of cool, George Clooney.

There is more to it than that of course, but it is a good jumping off point. One of the wonders of this movie, watching now, is how much Jennifer Lopez does not suck in it. There is a phenomenon that occurs wherein an actor can become too self aware, immediately ruining their appeal. It happened to Vin Diesel (check him out in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and the first ‘Pitch Black’ and tell me I’m wrong), and it certainly happened to Jennifer Lopez.

She’s not J-Lo in this one. She’s Karen Sisco, a hot US Marshall who falls for the wrong guys. As the movie starts, she’s with FBI officer and wife-cheater, Ray Nicolette, who is played by Michael Keaton, reprising the role he played in another Elmore Leonard adaptation, ‘Jackie Brown’. But Sisco’s main attraction in the film is bank-robber and prison escapee Jack Foley, played by Clooney.

This is a heist film, no doubt, but the actual plot (to rip a rich guy of his diamonds) is really the films MacGuffin. The real point is to put a bunch of solid, funny actors together and to let them do their thing. Major roles are played in the plot by Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames, and Steve Zahn. Supporting, are Dennis Farina, Luis Guzman, Catherine Keener, and Albert Brooks. Everyone listed has at least one perfectly realized scene, and most of them have many such moments.

Another star of the film is its editor, Anne Coates. When film schools talk about a scene using non-linear editing to better tell a story, they should use the first true date between Clooney and Lopez to show how to do it right. Tarantino and his editor, Sally Menke, mastered the macro version of non-linear film editing in both ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction,’ but Soderbergh and Coates do the micro version succinctly here. While the entire film does jump from past to present, it really only does so in order to draw out some of the “whys” of the story. As with all Soderbergh films, it’s the way shots are put together within each individual scene which make it so visually arousing. If you need a specific example, imagine how dry and plodding the ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ films would be in the hands of a filmmaker who was not interested in how to really tell a story, but rather in making sure you had your long shot, two shot, close up, reestablishing shot formula.

The contemporaneous reviews were mostly complementary. Roger Ebert makes the comparison to ‘Pulp Fiction’, and praises ‘Out of Sight’ for pushing the time-altering structure forward, rather than just imitating it. Mick LaSalle points out that it “may go down in the annals of film as the movie in which George Clooney learned how to keep his head still, and become a leading man.” A look at Clooney’s resume supports this. Most of the films for which we remember him come after ‘Out of Sight’ (save for the nipple-suited Batman, maybe… though I don’t think he wants to be remembered for it).

Then we have Barbara Shulgasser, in the San Francisco Examiner, saying that the plot is too contrived to follow, and that she couldn’t suspend disbelief enough to go along for the ride. Take this with a grain of salt though, ‘cause this is the same chick who said of ‘Con Air’ that “the logical inconsistencies are so nicely worked into the fast-moving script by Scott Rosenberg that you hardly notice them flying by.”

Ultimately, I think it’s one to see for yourself if you have not. Kick back with a couple drinks, a couple friends, let the fun take you over, and maybe you can even spend a little time reflecting on what could have been if Jennifer Lopez hadn’t ever realized how hot she is.

~ by johnlink00 on November 3, 2008.

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