Out of Sight (1998)

D: Steven Soderbergh
S: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames

Stylish crime drama from director Steven Soderbergh based on the novel by Elmore Leonard. Overlaid with a curious seventies style soundtrack by David Holmes, the film has a definite feeling of being out of time despite its obvious relationship with the post-Tarantino American gangster film. Rich cinematography (by Elliot Davis), strong performances from a large cast of familiar faces and a nicely measured flashback structure add up to a neat cinematic distraction from a story which trades on familiar conventions. Habitual bank robber George Clooney escapes from prison with Federal Officer Jennifer Lopez as an accidental hostage. A strange and instant attraction between them keeps their lives intertwined even when they are separated shortly afterwards, leading to an inevitable confrontation between the two as Clooney goes about his criminal business and Lopez fights the good fight for the law.

Constant movement between characters' stories and between past and present keeps the sometimes contrived plot from becoming annoying here, and with the benefit of smooth dialogue and a camera which seems unable to do any wrong, the cast come off very nicely with characters which in the wrong hands might seem silly and one-dimensional. Clooney seems finally to have found a good vehicle for his smooth, sexy persona (after the horrors of Batman and Robin and The Peacemaker), more than matched by alluring and strong-willed Lopez. Both are backed by a terrific supporting cast including Ving Rhames and Don Cheadle in prominent roles and a wealth of familiar faces (Dennis Farina, Albert Brooks, Michael Keaton, Nancy Allen, Samuel L. Jackson) in smaller ones. A convincing tone is maintained throughout, and Soderbergh matches style to content extremely well to mount an entertaining and relatively adult variation on a theme.

The film lacks the depth of Jackie Brown, never quite managing to make the characters and their world 'real' enough to generate genuine tension. It is framed by a mood of fantastical romance, as indeed is the unlikely boy meets girl story which provides the film with its core. Its initial references to other movies and occasional feeling of an early seventies Steve McQueen film merely serve to remind the viewer of the artifice. This serves the style of the piece quite well, but it also denies it the ability to connect on a basic level with a contemporary audience as anything other than a postmodern critique of itself. This may not be everyone's idea of a good time, but it is certainly a film crafted with care and skill which is well worth seeing if you can take it on its own terms.

Out of Sight is not the most important film you'll see this year, but it must rank among the most interesting. The 1990s has served Elmore Leonard much better in general than the 1980s did, with Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and now this carving particular and interesting niches for themselves. Among this film's backstage players are veterans of the first, Danny De Vito and Barry Sonnenfeld.

Well worth a look.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.