Out of Sight (United States, 1998)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

In the middle of the summer movie season, when most films are designed with the intelligence of a seven year-old for viewers with the attention span of someone even younger, it's refreshing to find a picture like Out of Sight, which is not only smart, but a great deal of fun, as well. I enjoyed watching this movie more than Deep Impact, Godzilla, and Armageddon put together. Directed by one-time wunderkind film maker Steven Soderbergh (whose sex, lies, and videotape put him on the map big-time), Out of Sight will inevitably turn out to be one of the best thrillers of the year.

Elmore Leonard stories have always been popular choices for movie adaptations. Over the past few years, however, they have become more prevalent, with Get Shorty, Touch, Jackie Brown (based on Rum Punch), and Out of Sight all reaching the screen. It's not difficult to understand the appeal. Leonard writes great dialogue, creates interesting characters, and has compelling plots based on human behavior rather than contrived twists. His novels, while not necessarily realistic, are believable, primarily because the reader isn't chapters ahead of the protagonist. When translated effectively to celluloid, a good Leonard novel makes for a very good motion picture. Such is the case with Out of Sight.

Even without a solid script like the one turned in by Scott Frank (Dead Again), it would almost be worth the price of admission to see George Clooney (The Peacemaker) and Jennifer Lopez (Selena) together on screen. They are two of the most attractive and charismatic actors around, and, in addition to having tremendous screen presence, they're good at their craft. True to form, both are excellent in Out of Sight, and the constant sexual tension between them is electric. To realize just how well Clooney and Lopez work together, compare what exists between them to the ineffective, manufactured chemistry of something like Hope Floats.

Clooney plays Jack Foley, one of the most successful bank robbers of our time. By applying his smile, his charm, and his mind, he managed to make illegal withdrawals more than 200 times (never using a gun) before the FBI nabbed him. Now, after being broken out of jail with the help of his best friend, Buddy (Ving Rhames), he's on his way from Florida to Detroit for a big score -- $5 million in uncut diamonds hidden in the home of Wall Street financier Richard Ripley (Albert Brooks), a former prison pal. But some unfinished business is trailing Jack. During his escape, he took a female federal marshal, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), hostage. Despite the circumstances, the spark between them was instantaneous and undeniable, and now Jack finds himself thinking of her constantly. For her part, even as she tracks him down, she dreams of what it might be like to have a tryst with him.

Everything in Out of Sight is smart -- the dialogue, the characters, and the storyline. The film boasts some great scenes. In one, Jack and Karen are crammed together in the trunk of a car. His hand strokes her thigh as the two discuss Faye Dunaway movies: Bonnie and Clyde, Network, and Three Days of the Condor. In another, the two meet face-to-face in a bar and, for the first time, openly admit the attraction that has drawn them together across the long miles separating Florida from Michigan. The opening bank robbery is also masterfully presented, with Clooney oozing charisma as he asks the frightened teller, "Is this your first time being held up?"

Out of Sight has a superlative supporting cast. Ving Rhames, who has played a number of gangsters and bad guys during his career, is perfect as Buddy -- a tough, reliable dude with a couple of unexpected foibles. Albert Brooks is almost unrecognizable as the weasely criminal millionaire. Don Cheadle is suitably vicious as Snoopy Miller, one of Jack's acquaintances from prison who's now living in Detroit. Steve Zahn's Glenn, a perpetually-stoned thief, is the most openly comic character in the film. There are also a couple of memorable cameos, but I won't spoil the fun by mentioning who they are.

This is easily Soderbergh's best effort since 1993's King of the Hill. It's not his first venture into the crime genre -- he stopped there a few years ago with The Underneath. Here, however, he demonstrates mastery of the material. He weds the two aspects of the narrative (the love story and the caper story) together so well that Out of Sight can be seen as a romance with a crime story background, or a crime story with a little romance thrown in for good measure. The director's one possible misstep, and it's a minor mistake, is overusing the brief freeze-frame. This technique, designed to highlight a moment, occurs a few times too many.

Like Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, Bound, and other motion pictures of the like, Out of Sight contains enough to please just about anyone who enjoys an unpredictable, character-driven thriller. Despite a somewhat nonlinear structure that uses flashbacks to fill in story holes, the plot is not difficult for a thinking viewer to follow. Better still, it's compelling from start to finish. And, for the kind of movie that this is, you couldn't ask for a more appropriate closing scene. Out of Sight offers the best entertainment Hollywood has been able to muster since Memorial Day.

Out of Sight (United States, 1998)

Run Time: 2:03
U.S. Release Date: 1998-06-26
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1