Action Adventure Reviews

Review Index



Out of Sight, 1998. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Nancy Allen, Dennis Farina, Michael Keaton.

This Elmore Leonard adaptation was sold (unsuccessfully) as the next Get Shorty. Most of the principal creative forces behind Get Shorty are behind the camera here, from producers Danny DeVito and Barry Sonnenfeld (DeVito's Jersey Films production company is making something of a cottage industry from Elmore Leonard adaptations and the extended ensemble they have assembled for them), to screenwriter Scott Frank and, of course, Leonard's source novel. The new element here is director Stephen Soderbergh, a highbrow director who doesn't normally go slumming with pulp fiction like this. There is hope for him, though, because the sensibility he brings to the material is not condescending (as is the attitude of many arty directors brought in for popular entertainments like this). His input into the film, and George Clooney's performance for that matter, establish a personality for the film that divorces it from its status as "Son of Get Shorty" and places it firmly in the firmament. This is a damned good movie­a better movie than Get Shorty, which is slick and opportunistic--a movie that takes the elements of genre and uses them in the way they must be used if genre is to produce anything that can pass as art. At its best, genre tests its characters in ways more naturalistic modes cannot by putting them in the pressure cooker to see how they stand up. If you have good characters, as this film does, you get an organic whole despite the holes that generic shortcuts often leave.

Out of Sight uses its plot to put US Marshall Jennifer Lopez into the stew with nice-guy bank robber George Clooney and lets them simmer. There is a definite connection between the two that trancends the unlikelihood of their romance and lets the audience forgive the filmmakers for making them buy into it. The dialog is first rate, with wonderful touches for almost every character, especially for Ving Rhames as Clooney's long suffering accomplice. Clooney turns on the charm here in a way that his other films have not permitted. Jennifer Lopez has a perfect mix of fragility and toughness overlayered with a certain dissatisfaction with the way her life is going. This makes it easier to swallow when she and Clooney fall for each other. Good as all of this is, though, the real star here is the director. This has a genuinely impressive cinematic flair. This has jump cuts and freeze-frames and asynchronous sound and an awesome score all used with such skill that it is difficult to imagine the film without them. It also has a sense of casual reality about it which is surprising given the number of camera filters used throughout. It seems to take place in the real world. In fact, it would be easy to mistake the film for a nineteen-seventies-style crime thriller along the lines of, say, Serpico or Dog Day Afternoon, underlined with a hint of blaxploitation. In this respect, it has a great deal in common with Quentin Tarrantino's Jackie Brown (also adapted from Leonard by the folks at Jersey Films), which it resembles in a lot of specifics. Now, I won't swear that this is a great film--it probably isn't--but it is a damned good film, and more importantly, it is a film with adult sensibilities to go along with its populist appeal. All of which suggest that there may be hope for summer movies yet.