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June 18, 2008 |

By TK Burton | Pajiba Blockbusters | June 18, 2008 |

When Out of Sight came out in 1998, Geroge Clooney was still part of the cast of “ER,” and was only a couple of years removed from the two worst choices of his career (Return of the Killer Tomatoes notwithstanding) — Batman and Robin and One Fine Day. Needless to say, he was in a rebuilding process, and appeared to be carefully choosing roles in an effort to reestablish his career. At the same time, Jennifer Lopez was on her way up — she’d received some critical acclaim for Selena, and had starred in Oliver Stone’s ambitious, if ultimately unsuccessful U-Turn. They were both in need of a hit, but a smart, carefully chosen and well-executed one. Something that would give them some credibility, allow them to demonstrate their range, and get the masses into the theaters. Meanwhile, director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, The Limey), one of the most ambitious, stylish, technically brilliant directors around, was at the time trying to, as he said, “climb my way out of the arthouse ghetto, which can be as much of a trap as making blockbuster films.” Out of Sight was the perfect vehicle for them, and together they crafted a gorgeously filmed, wonderfully acted romance/comedy/crime-caper hybrid the likes of which we hadn’t seen in a long time, nor since.

Out of Sight, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard, is the story of an unlikely couple brought together by unlikely circumstances, and the journey they take to see whether or not their relationship can endure the hardest of tests that they create for themselves. Clooney plays Jack Foley, professional bank robber, a three-time convict with a habit for well-thought out plans that keep getting brought down by foolish mistakes. Jack’s locked up in the Glades Correctional Facility in Florida, where he piggybacks onto a plan to escape plotted haphazardly by another convict named Chino (a flamboyant and excellent Luis Guzm├ín). However, just as Jack emerges from the jailbreak, a U.S. Marshall named Karen Sisco (Lopez) stumbles across them, leading to a frantic confrontation that results in Jack and Karen locked together in the trunk of the getaway car, while Jack’s anxious and exasperated partner Buddy (Ving Rhames) drives them away. There, in the dimly lit trunk, pressed up against each other, they begin what starts as forced conversation and bravado-flavored repartee, but ends in subtle flirting and nervous emotional exploration. Jack finds himself inexplicably opening up to her, caught by her style and her toughness (not to mention the fact that she’s probably the hottest she’s ever been in this. Seriously. The shot of her in a thigh-length skirt, shotgun pointed, hips set - sweet mercy), while Karen gradually warms up to his gentle curiosity about her and his - well, overwhelming Clooneyness, for lack of a better term.

However, it doesn’t stop her from eventually trying to shoot her way out of the situation, and eventually coercing their third associate, the stoned and skittish Glenn (Steve Zahn), into helping her escape. Jack and Buddy get away, holing up in a hotel in Miami while they try to figure out their next move. Karen, meanwhile, works on getting onto the FBI team charged with tracking them down. They can’t stop thinking about each other, and after a series of near misses and close encounters with Karen and her team, Buddy and Jack make their way to Detroit. Detroit, as unlikely as it seems, is the site of their mythical final score — stealing a wealth of uncut diamonds from a crooked financier that Jack met in Glades, named Richard Ripley (Albert Brooks - amazing as usual). Along the way, they have to contend with a slick, brutal fellow ex-con named Maurice “Snoopy” Miller (Don Cheadle) and his gang of goons, as well as reunite with Glenn, avoid the cops, and figure out what to do about Karen, who inevitably follows them - partly out of professional instinct, partly because of her growing infatuation with Jack (who more than returns the feeling).

All of this sounds pretty complicated, but Soderbergh weaves it all together seamlessly, using a combination of straightforward narrative, flashbacks, and even a dream sequence. Once you figure out the timeline, the flow begins to make sense and you get comfortable with it. The result is almost breathtaking — Out of Sight is unequivocally an absolute joy to watch. I’ve seen it easily a dozen times, and every single time I grin my way through it, and every time I also notice something new, some small, carefully placed detail that Soderbergh included. Everything is meticulously planned in Soderbergh’s films, and this one is no exception. The clothes they wear, sets, extras, the use of shadow and light and color - all of it is part of a master plan to create something that will entertain the average viewer, as well as please the film buff looking for something original. The music, by the sensational David Holmes, carries the mood of the film perfectly. It starts immediately, as the movie opens to remixed strains of the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing,” and throughout the film, the music moves with such a slick, funky pace that you can’t see the scenes being filmed with any other backdrop.

Every film seems like a bit of an experiment for Soderbergh, and Out of Sight is no different. The film opens in a brightly lit, sunny, sumptuous Miami setting, with lots of sky and people and sweat, creating a feeling of wide-open possibility and breezy cleverness. When the movie shifts to Detroit, everything changes - he switches to a blued, washed-out palette, and the tone of the film itself gets grittier, more serious. It’s amazing to see the emotions of the characters, the feeling of the film itself, so intimately and tied to the places and colors and cinematography. As soon as things start moving in Detroit, you can feel that a path has been set, filling you with a sense of anxiousness and tightening up the mood. I will say this: never before has Detroit looked so beautiful. Perhaps that’s the true sign of Soderbergh’s gift - taking a city like that and making it so eye-catching and engaging.

While the music and the direction set the stage and provide a lovely, enticing, and at times an invitingly grimy backdrop, the actors are what filled the seats. Much like the colors and sounds, it seems like the actors were chosen through a similarly painstaking, careful process. Because this is one of the rare films where it really feels like the casting is perfect. Clooney’s Jack has a dry, lazy sexiness that has, to a certain extent, fortified his career overall. Yet he also has an air of resigned desperation to him - like he knows where his path is headed, and can’t stop it. At the same time, he feels like Karen is at the end of that path, so perhaps he doesn’t want to. Regardless, he knows one thing - he won’t go back to prison. When Buddy, during a somber conversation, remarks “Oh, they put a gun on you, you’ll go,” Jack resignedly responds, “They put a gun on you, you still have a choice.” When he’s on-screen with Lopez, the two are brain-fryingly hot. The chemistry between the two is just amazing. Each glance that they exchange has more emotion and sensuousness than most entire films do. Speaking of which, Jennifer Lopez as Karen Sisco… OK, allow me a moment to rant here. Jennifer Lopez’s Karen Sisco is absolutely incredible. She’s smart, tough, funny, flawed and manages to be blisteringly seductive, yet genuinely sweet and charming. Her performance is remarkable, yet infuriating at the same time, given that she has since opted for shitty pop albums and a saccharine, bland movie career consisting of lame, uninteresting rom-coms. Goddamnit Jennifer, we know you can do better, and yet you continue to just take the money and run.

Anyway. Please forgive that detour. The rest of the cast is superb. Cheadle’s Snoopy Miller is my favorite — a smooth talking, deadly, slightly deranged thug who is bookended by a pair of cretins — one a giant meathead named Whiteboy Bob (Keith Loneker), the other a sociopathic sexual predator named Kenneth (Isaiah Washington of Grey’s Anatomy fame). Cheadle is at his finest — I daresay that other than his role in Hotel Rwanda, this is hands down my favorite performance of his. He maintains his cool throughout, and when faced with Jack sticking a gun in his face, he calmly remarks, “You know, a situation like this, there’s a high potentiality for the common motherfucker to bitch out.” It’s a crass, brilliant line that was actually written by Cheadle, and is delivered perfectly. Steve Zahn’s Glenn is the clown of the bunch, a mounrfully stupid stoner who is simply trying to make a buck, but is surrounded by schemers, cops and psychotics and is grossly over-matched by all of them. Albert Brooks, Luis Guzman, Catherine Keener (as Jack’s ditsy ex-wife), Dennis Farina (as Karen’s kind-but-hardassed father) are all outstanding additions. Throw in a couple of smile-inducing cameos (including one that, interestingly, ties into a different movie based on an Elmore Leonard movie), and the cast can do no wrong.

I once read, after Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy had been released, that Out of Sight seemed like practice, a rehearsal, for those movies. I couldn’t disagree more — the films share obvious similarities — capers, ensemble casts, Clooney — but I feel that Out of Sight is superior to those (they each have their own merits, mind you — some more than others though). It’s simply a cozier, more alluring piece that doesn’t spend as much time being deliberately clever as much as it simply gradually, languidly unfolds before you, letting you share its warmth. Out of Sight has always been a hit, though I feel like it sometimes gets left out of conversations. It shouldn’t - it’s a splendid, totally complete film, one that I feel should always get a second, or third, or fifteenth look. If you were one of the ones who made its release a success, you made an excellent choice. Now go watch it again so you can immerse yourself in it’s dazzling world all over again.

TK can be found wandering aimlessly through suburban Massachusetts, wondering how the hell he got there while yelling at the kids on his lawn. You can find him raising the dead in preparation for world domination at Uncooked Meat.

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Out of Sight / TK

Pajiba Blockbusters | June 18, 2008 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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