|Out of Sight|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 18 April 2006|
While not a hit, this movie pleased virtually everyone who saw it in theaters, and it's only going to win more followers on video -- particularly in this terrific DVD. There are plenty of extras, which is easy enough to do, if you have the footage, but here they're particularly well organized, with interesting deleted scenes, intelligent commentary by director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Frank, and well-chosen clips from the "electronic press kit" created to publicize the film, including some words from Elmore Leonard, author of the original novel.
Elsewhere, Leonard has said that he keeps notepads on which he outlines the characters in great detail, from birth to the point in their lives he wants to deal with. When he accumulates enough interesting characters, he kind of tosses them together, usually in Florida, and lets them more or less generate the plot through their interactions. A lifetime as a professional writer given him many highly adaptable templates for plots -- he doesn't have to think very much about them. He deals with the characters, and at that, he has few equals and no masters in pop crime fiction today.
Scott Frank wrote "Get Shorty," the fine Leonard adaptation of a few years ago, and returned for this one. The direcgtor is the quirky Steven Soderbergh -- and "Out of Sight" is his best movie since "sex, lies and videotape." He uses very different color schemes, even different film stocks, for the various segments of the movie; the Florida scenes are drenched in saturated colors, rather than the hot pastels favored in most films set there, while the Detroit sequences are hard, cold and steel gray. There are some flashbacks to the California prison in Lompoc, and those, too, have a distinctive, bleached style.
But mostly, Soderbergh is great with actors, and he has a terrific cast to work with: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Dennis Farina, Albert Brooks, Steve Zahn, Nancy Allen, Catherine Keener, even the unbilled Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson. Every person who has a line has a character, vivid, colorful, even startling. And like most of Leonard's best books, the story blends comedy and serious stuff adroitly; you even laugh at a scene in which a secondary character accidentally blows his own brains out.
Bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney) prides himself on never using a gun, but he's not a very good thief he's spent half his life in prison. As the movie opens, he escapes from prison; his friend, Buddy (Rhames), is there to pick him up, but by chance, so is Federal Marshal Karen Sisco (Lopez); not knowing what else to do, Buddy and Jack toss her in the trunk of her own car, and Jack climbs in, too, to keep hidden. Despite herself, Karen is attracted to the charming, sexy Jack, though she does flee at the earliest possible opportunity.
Her mostly retired cop father (Farina) shrugs it off; he has no problem understanding her attraction to the handsome bank robber. She joins the effort in tracking Jack down, however. In Detroit, Jack and Buddy involve themselves in the scheme of Maurice "Snoopy" Miller (Cheadle), who's intent on robbing billionaire Richard Ripley (a bald Albert Brooks), who'd briefly been in jail with them. Karen heads for Detroit, where everything finally comes to a head in Ripley's mansion.
Someone once said that if some of the acting in a movie is good, credit the actors; if all of the acting is good, credit the director. If that's true, Soderbergh deserves tremendous credit, because everyone in the film is excellent. George Clooney is smooth, ingratiating, romantic and tough. Jennifer Lopez is also tough, and seems like a cop down to her bone marrow -- but she also suggests there's something missing in her life that she doesn't know isn't there -- but which emerges, however tentatively, while she's stuck in the trunk with Jack.
Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle and particularly Steve Zahn are excellent in supporting roles; Rhames has a natural, unforced friendliness that comes across very well on screen. Cheadle is a chameleon; he seems to be able to play almost any role. Michael Keaton, amusingly, plays the same character he did in "Jackie Brown," another Elmore Leonard adaptation.
Scott Frank is one of the best screenwriters in the business today; among his other credits are "Little Man Tate" and "Dead Again." He's good at structure, and better at dialog that's always in character. Sometimes it's funny, but it's almost always you-had-to-be-there funny, the best kind for expressing character.
Soderbergh uses a few odd tricks in the movie -- brief freeze frames, Clooney flicking a cigarette lighter to signify transitions -- that I don't think add much, but they're unobtrusive, and at least the lighter pays off in the very last scene. Mostly, though, he concentrates on the characters, their relationship to their environment, and how they form the plot. He seems to have a natural ease with actors, bringing out not just their best, but helping them find ways to express what's distinctive about them as actors -- and yet keeping that in service to the plot.
"Out of Sight" works in every way it was intended to; it's hip, smart, entertaining -- as good as movies like this get. And the DVD is a match for the movie.