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From the DVD Shelf: Out of Sight (1998)

Boy do I absolutely adore Out of Sight. It’s one of those films in whose world I wish I could go on living.  There’s just something so magical about the combination of the script, the direction, the acting, and the whole tone that is created in the film.  When watching Out of Sight, I never want the story to end.  I wish there were ten more films featuring these characters in further adventures.  It’s that good — just a (too short) little slice of perfection.

The film is directed by Steven Soderbergh (it’s by far my favorite Soderbergh film, so far above the dreadful Ocean’s 11 movies as to be laughable), and adapted (by Scott Frank, doing a bang-up job) from the novel by Elmore Leonard.  (Every time I watch this film I say to myself that I need to go read the original novel immediately.  I’m ashamed to say I haven’t yet, but I do look forward to getting to that some day.)

When the film begins, we meet Jack Foley (George Clooney), a man who seems to be at the end of his rope.  So, what is there to do but walk across the street and rob a bank.  He fails, of course, but that’s just the beginning of the story.  Out of Sight has a deliciously twisted narrative, jumping back and forth between different characters and different time periods.  (The joy of discovering, late in the film, just what happened to so royally piss off Jack at the start of the movie is immense.)

George Clooney is absolutely dynamite in the lead role.  It’s a true movie-star performance.  He gives Jack ENORMOUS charisma and likability, even though he’s a thief and a scoundrel.  Mr. Clooney brings a lot of layers to Jack, and I love the way the character is depicted as very smart and adaptable, though not super-humanly perfect.  Jack does screw up, and he makes bad decisions.  But we root for him to succeed every step of the way.

Jennifer Lopez plays U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco, and I would argue that she has never been better on-screen.  Ms. Lopez is sexy and smart, and her chemistry with Mr. Clooney is palpable.  Their first meeting — locked together in the trunk of a stolen car (you just have to watch the film to see how they got into that situation) — remains one of my favorite scenes from any film.  The dialogue bites, but the scene succeeds because Mr. Clooney and Ms. Lopez sell it perfectly.

And how great is the rest of the supporting cast?  There’s Dennis Farina as Karen’s dad.  There’s Ving Rhames as Jack’s partner-in-crime Buddy.  There’s Steve Zahn as the hapless criminal Glenn.  There’s Don Cheadle as the dangerous thug Maurice.  There’s Albert Brooks (Yes!  Albert Brooks!) as the wealthy Richard Ripley.

Even the minor players in the film are terrific.  Isaiah Washington (who’d go on to fame and notoriety on Grey’s Anatomy) and Viola Davis (nominated this year for Best Actress for her performance in The Help) have just a few minutes of screen time as to members of Maurice’s posse, but they both make a strong impression.  Nancy Allen (a regular in the films of Brian De Palma I’ve recently been watching) pops up as Richard’s mistress, and she’s a lot of fun to watch.  I won’t spoil the identity of the now-famous actor who appears in the movie’s final scene, but he’s absolutely PERFECT and one of my favorite things about the film.

And, of course, speaking of great actors who are in just one or two scenes, I have to mention Michael Keaton as Ray Nicolette.  Mr. Keaton is phenomenal in his one meaty scene with Dennis Farina.  I wish he had a lot more to do in the film!  (I wish ALL of these supporting players that I’ve just listed had more to do in the film!  This is what I was talking about at the beginning when I said I wish I could spend a lot more time living in the world of this film.  All of these characters could be the stars of their own spin-off films!  I’d love to be able to watch many more films that would further explore these wonderful and fascinating characters.)

But the great thing about Michael Keaton’s performance as Ray Nicolette is that he’s a part of the greatest film cross-over of all time.  Mr. Keaton also plays the same character in another film adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel: that would be Quentin Tarantino’s film Jackie Brown (adapted from Mr. Leonard’s novel Rum Punch).  Despite the fact that Jackie Brown was made by different filmmakers, working for an entirely different studio, the movie-makers worked together in a stunning moment of brilliant creativity and inter-studio amity to allow the same character, played by the same actor, to appear in both films.  (From what I have read, Mr. Tarantino used his muscle to help make this happen.)  To this day I find that absolutely awesome.

Out of Sight is very funny and very engaging.  It’s a smart, twisty narrative made for adults, with characters and relationships that avoid the simplistic cliches one might expect.  It also doesn’t hurt, for me, that my wife’s grandmother is in it (in just a brief moment when you see a bunch of old ladies outside the Miami hotel where George Clooney and Ving Rhames’ characters are hiding out).  I love this movie, and watching it makes me want to go re-watch some of the other great films adapted from the work of Elmore Leonard (like the afore-mentioned Jackie Brown, or maybe the also-great Get Shorty).  Heck, just writing about this movie makes me want to go re-watch it again!

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