An Elmore Leonard novel is the equivalent of chicken broth for a pulp fiction reader. His characters are so unapologetically crooked and put themselves in such crazy situations that it’s comforting because you know you’re going to get what you paid for on page one. Steven Soderbergh is himself comfort food for film buffs. His movies are elegant, smoothly paced and just challenging enough to remain intelligible. Both artists were unlikely to ever team up together, but they did. The result was Out of Sight, a movie that brought Jennifer Lopez to the public eye and became a cult classic among the crime films aficionados.
The movie opens on a shot of Jack Foley (George Clooney), who is angry for an unknown reason and then walks straight into a bank and robs a cashier blind, just by using his charisma. He walks out to his car, but the damn thing won’t start. Jack is caught in and incarcerated. His plan to bust out of the joint with his friend Buddy (Ving Rhames) is crashed by Federal Marshall Karen Sisco, who they take as an hostage. Jack hops in the trunk with her, where they are having a beautiful, surreal conversation. They part ways as Jack has to leave the State of Florida for Detroit (with a very precise goal in mind) , but the connection is made. But badly ache for each other, which is the best and the worst thing that can happen to them at this point.
Steve Soderbergh is a tricky bastard. But he’s also very charming. A lot of crucial elements of Out of Sight happen in flashbacks and even in fantasies. But there are no clear markers of that. No Vaseline on the screen, no flashback music. There is a TWO YEARS AGO mention passing by once, but that’s it. If you zone out, you’re most likely to get lost in this movie. It requires all of your attention. But Soderbergh knows that. He relies a lot on Leonard’s characters and on Scott Frank’s snappy screenplay to keep the action moving forward. Plus, he makes his contribution to this effort by rendering the pulp legend’s character in all their colorfulness. Out of Sight is a movie with a lot of sun, flashy colors and over-the-top characters. While the physical action keeps your reptilian brain going, your intellect is fed by the dynamic plot and the great one-liners only Elmore Leonard can come up with. It keeps a very subtle balance to make sure you keep up with its complicated content.
George Clooney does a good job as Jack, but you know how he is. He plays charming cons all the fucking time. He seems born to play in adaptations of Elmore Leonard. Steve Zahn, who plays fellow con Glen Michaels, offers such a good performance, he also seems born to play pulp. Same as Ving Rhames and Wendell Harris, who played the FBI supervisor Burdon (the pun on his name is very intended). Jennifer Lopez and Dennis Farina (who plays her father), offer performances a lot smoother, more polished. They could’ve clashed with the movie and bring them down, if the scenes were not so well built. Whenever they are on screen, it’s never in the middle of the ambient chaos. I’m not even done yet with the great performances. I would hate myself to forget Albert Brooks, Don Cheedle and Catherine Keener, who also give terrific renditions of their characters.
Out of Sight wasn’t a huge hit with the mass audiences, but it grew a loyal fan base over the years. Of course it helped that Steven Soderbergh directed the Danny Ocean trilogy in the following decade, but Out of Sight was his breakthrough movie. Watch it and you’ll see a lot of recurring themes he used during his career. If you missed out on it, run to your video store or to your closest streaming device and catch up on this wonderful collaborations in between two legends in their respective fields.