Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Out of Sight

Out of Sight (1998, Steven Soderbergh)

Out of Sight is a heist and a romance story rolled into one. In theory, that doesn’t sound terribly unique, but then again, Soderbergh has a knack for finding fun, thoughtfulness and creativity in tried genres. Out of Sight is not as daring as, say, Schizopolis, Solaris, Kakfa or Che, but by looking through the director’s filmography, there is little doubt that the man is confident in approaching genres he has previously not adventured into. What’s more, it would only be a few years later in 2001, that Soderbergh would prove himself yet again capable of delivering a stylish heist flick with a fun cast of characters in the Ocean’s Eleven remake. Of course, one could put into question his ability to produce consistently high quality heist flicks, as the 2 Ocean sequels, in my book at least, offered diminishing returns each time.

But let’s stick with the film at hand, shall we? In Out of Sight, Jack Foley (George Clooney) is what one would call a professional bank robber. It’s all he knows how to do, even though the movie doesn’t hide the fact that he has been caught on numerous occasions. When it is assumed by a character that he has probably spent almost half his life in prison, cool Jack makes no attempt to refute the guess even. One evening while parked just outside the prison grounds, U.S. Marshall Karen Sisco’s (Jennifer Lopez) involvement in the plot is set in motion in true John McClean. Occupying the wrong place at the wrong time as Jack makes his latest escape from prison from a hole in the ground just outside the prison gates, she is thrust into the burglar’s life just like that. Outnumbered by both Jack and his partner in crime Buddy Brog (Ving Rhames) who was waiting outside not too far from Karen’s car, she’s thrown in the trunk of their vehicle along with Jack, who can’t be seen from the police and therefore needs a quick place to hide. Buddy drives while Jack and Karen are forced into an up close and personal situation.

It’s in the cozy confines of the trunk that Karen begins to see the charming side to Jack. Sure, he’s a thief, but he’s played with such suaveness by George Clooney that I’m sure Glen Close from 101 Dalmations would feel some sexual tension. This is where perhaps Soderbergh probably let’s the genre take care of itself a little bit. Really, can Karen take a liking to this man after a 5 minute ride in a car trunk? I don’t think so, but then we wouldn’t get the great scenes that follow. Therefore, as they say, so what? Karen, the good Marshall that she is, escapes her situation and vows to track down both Jack and Buddy as they head to Detroit to hit a big diamond score with the assistance of the treacherous Maurice Miller (Don Cheadle, pimping and loving every moment of it, but not with a British accent). The movie doesn’t play things so foolishly that Jack and Karen find love at first sight in that trunk of course. The scene is over just as abruptly as it began, but there is instant chemistry between the two. Jack has been around the ropes (he admits to being married once) and seen a lot in life. He’s also a very confident man, even when in tight spots. The rapport between the two key characters is therefore set up nicely.

Both Jack and Karen enjoy risky business. They’re both in risky businesses themselves and are putting their futures in jeopardy by giving in to their feelings. There is a superb, sexy, well written scene near the end during which Karen, sitting at a lounge bar refuses the advances of two gentlemen, only to offer a warm smile to Jack as he arrives a few moments later. She knows she can’t be flirting with this criminal, but the scene is played out with such confidence and sensuality by Clooney and Lopez they the viewer can’t help but want them to have at least a little but of fun, even though it’s the dumbest decision they could make. What makes the scene work as well is that earlier in the film when both were trapped in the trunk of Buddy’s car, Jack had begun dissecting the idea of what things would have been like had they met under different circumstances. The bar scene is essentially the pay-off for that earlier set up. Clooney, unsurprisingly, brings his A-game to the proceedings. I imagine that one could criticize Clooney for playing the smooth crooner too often in his career, the handsome man who just seems to have it will all the pretty women. Perhaps, but when I would argue Clooney has not only shown some versatility with other, more dramatic roles, but, when it comes down to it, he’s really good at playing crooners who have it with all the pretty women. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. One shouldn’t overlook Lopez however. It’s a shame she never went on to make more good movies because she does show at least some capable acting here. It helps that she looks elegant in almost every shot, but I really did believe she brought a sensibility to her role that I was not anticipating. I honestly only knew her from some of the few music videos of hers I had the displeasure of watching. I was therefore sceptical to say the least. The results were a nice surprise. Ving Rhames is arguably the least interesting character in the story. I can understand that Jack needs a helping hand, but Rhames, a fine actor when giving the right material, doesn’t do much here. It’s a shame because I do really like the guy, but I’d be lying if I said I gave a hoot about what happened to him. It’s Cheadle who steels scenes here, blowing away cool and dangerous lines by the minute. He’s not a terribly well developed character, but I couldn’t help but find him an amusing one.

Soderbergh, for one reason or another, enjoys toying with the chronology of scenes. The scene we see in the middle of the film may have taken place 2 years ago, as is the case on a few occasions here. In Schizopolis and The Limey the tool had a spectacular effect. Here, I wonder what the purpose of it was. It doesn’t hurt the movie, but doesn’t add anything substantial either. Can the argument be made that the story would have been a bit to stale had everything been told in the correct chronological order? Directors edit in and out scenes all the time during post-production in order to make their movies as effective as possible. I myself haven’t tried to replay everything in the correct order in my head, but I’d be curious to see what the results would be. Playfulness for the sake of it I suppose. I did find however that, as a complete cinematic package, Out of Sight looked very handsome. The colour schemes during the evening scenes, the playful editing within scenes, it all looks very stylish. I thought the score, while quite subtle most of the time, was very smooth and fit the film nicely.

Fun dialogue, fun characters, a brilliant opening scene (especially if you are a heist fan, it’s really clever) make for an entertainment movie. There is nothing exceptionally experimental, unique or quirky going on here, so art house lovers may not find that much to like, but as solid entertaining, Out of Sight delivers in spades. In fact, I like it more than Ocean’s Eleven. There is a greater intimacy to the characters in this film I find.

No comments: