Monday, December 17, 2007

Overlooked Classics: Out Of Sight (1998)

Jack Foley is a disappointed man. He’s nearing forty and he knows that the charm and charisma he has had is going to fade eventually. He’s had two major stints in prison and if he is arrested again he will spend the rest of his life there. He dreams of a different life…something better, something legitimate, but the problem is that the only thing he has very been any good at is robbing banks. It’s his inheritance, it’s his calling and no matter what he does he can’t get away from that very simple truth.
OUT OF SIGHT is a very rare breed of film. It is a commercial piece of cinema that is as uncompromising in its view as the hardest hitting of avant-garde films. It would be a career changing and life altering film for the people involved as well. It would cement the status of its screenwriter as one of the most talented of his generation, and it would allow its director to pay tribute to the type of cinema America had once been known for (and save his own career in the process). For its cast, it would be the film that would make some of them stars, put some of them on the map, and make them all as legitimate as Jack Foley himself longed so much to be.
Shot mostly on location around Angola, Florida and in Detroit (with some shooting in Los Angeles) in the late part of 1997, OUT OF SIGHT would be a relative commercial failure upon its initial release but with each passing year it is looking more and more like the classic many of us thought it was back in the summer of 98.
Adapted with care and passion from Elmore Leonard’s fine novel by young LITTLE MAN TATE and GET SHORTY screenwriter Scott Frank, OUT OF SIGHT stands as one of the most well written films of the nineties. It is one of only two Leonard adaptations, JACKIE BROWN being the other, which manages to stay truthful to the source material while maintaining its own very distinctive feel.
After the failed commercial attempt of THE UNDERNEATH in 1995 and the decidedly anti-commercial venture SCHIZOPOLIS in 1996, Steven Soderbergh needed a project where he could channel both his mainstream and experimental energies into one project. OUT OF SIGHT might have looked like a straightforward crime film to anyone else but Soderbergh saw it differently. With the help of his editor Anne V.Coates he would take Scott’s complex script and construct an astonishingly inventive and surprising film that would confound many critics and the public at large in 1998.

The main trick with OUT OF SIGHT is that it has to be watched multiple times to really get the story, so when Gene Siskel admitted in his original view on the film that he was confused he was having a legitimate first time reaction. The construction of OUT OF SIGHT can be confusing and disorienting on the first and even second viewing but, like Soderbergh’s THE LIMEY, repeated viewings show an incredibly intelligent film that is not only willing to take chances but demands that its audience does the same.
The non-linear first half of OUT OF SIGHT never feels gimmicky and that is one of its biggest assets. Unlike say MEMENTO, the mechanics of its storytelling never get in the way of the fact that this is a work essentially dealing in regret, and disappointment. In fact the way Soderbergh, Frank and Coates set up the story ends up adding even more emotional resonance to both Jack Foley and Karen Sisco. As Soderbergh mentions on his commentary, if the film had been told in a pure linear fashion much of the emotion and irony would indeed have been lost.
Technically OUT OF SIGHT is a gorgeously rendered production. With the powerfully cool music of David Holmes providing what seems to be an interior soundtrack for all of our main characters, and the aforementioned editing by Coates, OUT OF SIGHT moves along at a fast pace but feels downright meditative at times. The photography of Elliot Davis and production design of Gary Frutkoff are also superb, particular in the film’s second half Detroit shoot. Has a city ever looked so cold, hard and yet seductive than snow covered Detroit does here?

Everyone in the cast turns in great, and sometimes career best performances. As Jack Foley, George Clooney gives a weighty and moving performance that has fueled all of the great work he has done since. His work in OUT OF SIGHT is one of the key performances of the period. In support Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn, Ving Rhames, Albert Brooks, Dennis Farina, Michael Keaton (who reprises his role from JACKIE BROWN here) and Luis Guzman all turn in wonderfully rich supporting turns. Cheadle is especially effective as the menacing but funny Maurice “Snoopy” Miller. It’s not just a man’s show though as Catherine Keener, Nancy Allen and especially Jennifer Lopez are equaling compelling in their roles. Watching Lopez in this today is bittersweet today as she has never had had another role even close to matching the complexities of Karen Sisco.

The film is filled with notably rich moments. The celebrated chemistry between Clooney and Lopez is scorching, and their few scenes together are among the best in the film. Their love scene, set to David Holmes music and told partially in stills, is among the most heartbreaking and erotic ever filmed.
Scott Frank’s screenplay only significantly differs from Leoonard’s book in the last section of the film. Even Elmore Leonard gave approval though to the surprising closing shot, which includes a cameo by Samuel L. Jackson and possible redemption for one Jack Foley.
OUT OF SIGHT opened up in the summer of 2008 to mostly positive reviews and lukewarm box office. Like the other great Leonard adaptation from the period, JACKIE BROWN, it never really caught fire with the public. Frank and Coates received well-deserved Oscar nominations for their work but Clooney, Lopez and Soderbergh were ignored. All three of them were thankfully honored for their work though in several other award ceremonies that year.

Everyone, with the regrettable exception of Lopez, has made good on the greatness they displayed in OUT OF SIGHT. Clooney, Cheadle and Soderbergh are among the most powerful teams in Hollywood and Scott Frank recently enjoyed some success for his fine debut feature THE LOOKOUT. OUT OF SIGHT remains a special project for everyone involved though, even if it has never been granted the classic stature of some of the nineties most recognizable films...time should eventually take care of that though.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

I love this movie. Probably about the only movie that I think Jennifer Lopez showed her potential. George Clooney was wonderful here. I'm a big fan of Don Cheadle. I really enjoyed his performance in this film. It's a film that I've seen several times, but it's been a few years. Great blog.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith,
I was exhausted when I wrote this so I hope it came out okay...glad to hear you dig the film as well...

Christopher said...

Am I too late?

Uh, my mom walked out the theater after maybe 20 minutes.

For some reason, though, she taped the movie on pay-per-view [I don't think she remembered seeing the movie in a theater]. When she picked me up from school that day she raved about how romantic and sexy it was. Since then it's the only movie I can remember her rewatching like crazy. One week this year, when TNT was showing the movie seemingly every day, I could hear the movie in her room each of those days.

Ironically, she still doesn't own a legit copy of the movie. But she continues to watch it whenever it's on TV.

When I ask her why she walked out of the theater, she says she can't remember.

J.D. said...

This is a great film and probably my fave of Soderbergh's entire output. Not only is it entertaining as hell but it is smartly done. Great script - razor sharp and also crackerjack directing by Soderbergh who hits all the right style points. Also, it has to be Steve Zahn's best performance to date.

Kotto said...

the first time i saw this (in the theatre) i was blown away. at the time i gave a lot of the credit to anne coates, especially for the sex scene, but later found out soderberg did most of the heavy lifting in the edit suite. this film is perfect in every way, but i disagree with you labeling it "overlooked." it was nominated for 2 AA, critics loved it, audiences loved it (everyone i know owns the DVD) and it revitalized soderberg's career. in other words, it was a big success for everyone involved.