Out of Sight (1998)

If I'm not mistaken, Out of Sight represents a series of firsts. While not Steven Soderbergh's debut feature, it's arguably the film that launched him into public consciousness, forged some relationships that would prove to be very fruitful (George Clooney), and demonstrated a style that would inform many of his successive (and very successful!) films. [SEE: Oscars] Not only is it his first time making a film with Clooney, it was also the beginning of collaborations with such actors who would become Soderbergh regulars like Luis Guzman, Don Cheadle, and (the loveable) Catherine Keener. Also featured in this stellar and well rounded cast are Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, Albert Brooks, Michael Keaton, and Dennis Farina (love this guy).

This is what he looks like when he's robbing a bank.

The film is based on American crime writer Elmore Leonard's book of the same name, and follows, in a mostly non-linear style, bank robber Jack Foley as he escapes from prison in Florida, aided on the outside by longtime friend and accomplice Buddy (Ving). Problem is, US marshal Karen Sisco (J-Lo) happens to be right outside the prison at the time, and Buddy is forced to kidnap her and throw her in the trunk with Jack as they make their escape. The following scene in the trunk is now one of my favorite scenes from the last couple of decades as Foley makes the most of the time and gets to work trying, and succeeding, in charming his abductee. A few miles down the road and a great conversation about movies etc. later, their scene comes to an end as they meet Glenn (Steve Zahn) to switch vehicles. J-Lo is put into the car with Glenn (who, along with his sunglasses, Foley has an aversion to: "If I see Glenn Michaels wearing sunglasses I'm gonna step on em, and I might not even take em off."/"Take of your sunglasses or I'm going to throw them off the overpass with your head in em.") where she convinces him to ditch the other two to save his own hide, hence splitting her from Foley. But their little trunk rendez-vous left an impression on both our federal marshal and our gentleman bank robber, and we know they will meet again.

Steven Zahn as Glenn Michaels.

Foley and Buddy end up getting in on (of course) the old "one last heist" scheme with Glenn, which leads them up to Detroit to steal some uncut diamonds. Unfortunately for all, Glenn has a big mouth and has mistakenly let Maurice "Snoopy" Miller in on the plan. Snoopy is an ex-boxer and ex-con who served with our cast in prison down in the Glades, and is played by a surprisingly menacing Don Cheadle. Snoopy comes with the testerone'd power-tripping Kenny (Isaiah Washington) and rotund and ultimately clumsy White Boy Bob (Keith Loneker) in tow. Not to far behind them all is Federal marshal Sisco.

Albert Brooks as Richard Ripley, and Don Cheadle as Maurice "Snoopy" Miller.

Despite the moderately complex cast of characters, storyline, and narrative structure, Out of Sight is completely coherent, thanks to a wonderful editing job by Anne V. Coates (who among other things, edited Lawrence of Arabia [!], David Lynch's Elephant Man, and later Soderbergh's own Erin Brokovich). Coates threads the film together with a masterful dexterity, adhering faithfully to the style (from what I hear--I haven't read it!) of Elmore Leonard's source material. It is also quite sensually edited, particular the love scene which is tenderly intercut with an intimate discussion between the lovers in the hotel bar. Coates and Soderbergh also give us a number freeze frames to linger on where we are allowed to absorb the moment between our characters; moments certainly being a motif throughout the film.

"Let's take a time-out."

This film, as I mentioned above, really foreshadows the style of many of Soderbergh's films, particularly Traffic and Ocean's Eleven (I can't remember whether it transfers much to the other Oceans films--just saw them once!). Soderbergh has taken a page from the fly-on-the-wall cinema vérité style from the documentaries of DA Pennebaker et al, as well as docu-dramas like phenomenal The Battle of Algiers (a film whose influence can definitely be felt in Traffic), and mixed it with the funky, slick, and lively feel of Leonard's writing. Lots of fluid and handheld camera work, mixed with zooms and pans; a very cool mixture!

Nerd alert! It's Steven Soderbergh. Thanks for the movie, Mr. S.!

The performances are fantastic, and the characters all nicely developed and pretty much hilarious across the board, even the smaller ones; Catherine Keener as Foley's ex-wife and magician's assistant; Luis Guzman's Chino, a Cuban prison escapee (his accent--and his scene in Keener's apartment--seriously crack me up!); Zahn's sorta stoner Glenn; the great Dennis Farina as Karen's loving and witty father, also a US marshal; Michael Keaton as Karen's FBI boyfriend, who walks around wearing an FBI shirt (Dennis Farina: "Tell me Ray, you ever wear one that says 'UNDERCOVER'?"); and one more tiny but very special performance at the end that I will keep a secret. I should also note that while George Clooney and Ving Rhames give especially charming performances (but isn't Clooney always charming?), it is Jennifer Lopez who deserves a Gold Star. And I genuinely mean it, she really has the acting chops in this movie and is absolutely fantastic. Roger Ebert, in his review, likens the chemistry between Clooney and Lopez with that of Bogart and Bacall, and a greater compliment to them I can not imagine. I also agree. They have great banter (thanks to screenwriter Scott Frank), but which would fall flat if it weren't for two actors who completely and utterly inhabited their characters. Lopez's character is very well developed and three-dimensional: she is tough, yet tender and loving; she is susceptible to emotionality, but stands up for what she believes in, and has Drive with a capital D. She never falters, and honestly, you never ever lapse into thinking she's just Jenny from The Block. Jennifer Lopez, my hat goes off to thee.

Probably don't mess with this girl.

And not to take anything away from Lopez and the rest of these fine actors, but credit is certainly due to herr direktor, Mr. Steven Soderbergh. He is truly an auteur, and a filmmaker who I look up to, as someone who is constantly experimenting, and is not afraid to be seen as slightly "experimental". Soderbergh is a man who has vision, who can latch on to a mood, a complex story, some fascinating characters, and then pull it all together into a 123 minute movie that not only works, but succeeds in continuing--and advancing--the fascinating and often fumbled (comedic) neo-noir trend.

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