Movie Review : Out of Sight (1998)
The problem with heist movies is not that you know how they're going to end, it's that you know exactly everything that's going to happen - beat for beat - before it even starts. There's going to be a crew assembled, with a brainy type, an unpredictable goon and a safecracker and one of them is going to double cross the other. Presumably over a woman. And that guy is going to end up triple crossed. That is, of course, unless your heist movie is not about a heist at all. Out of Sight, a sultry, sexy thriller adapted from a novel by the immortal Elmore Leonard, is that kind of movie and it's why it aged like a delicious bourbon.
That movie might be better now that it's twenty years old than when it first came out.
Out of Sight is the story of Jack Foley (George Clooney), a veteran bank robber who gets caught in Florida for trying to rob a bank without a gun or a plan. He is sent to Glades Correctional Institution, where he almost immediately takes advantage of someone else's escape plan to cause a diversion and bolt. Only problem is that U.S Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) happened to be in the parking lot, that night. So, Jack and his partner Buddy (Ving Rhames) kidnap Karen and lock her in the trunk of her own car with Jack, while Buddy leaves the scene. It would've been a rather straightforward heist movie from that point on, except for the part where Jack and Karen fall in love in the trunk.
This is a somewhat complicated movie to follow. It was released right before Steven Soderbergh's fragmented classic The Limey and he was already experimenting with non-linear narratives then. Out of Sight is partly enjoyable because it's tough to know what it's about until it is revealed to you. It evolves organically like a growing tree, forwards, backwards and sideways. It's first about a bank robbery gone wrong, then about a finding love in an unexpected place, then it goes back into the past and it becomes about this imprisoned banker (Albert Brooks) who every prisoner at Lompoc try to squeeze for money, Out of Sight's utter unpredictability is its calling card.
Out of Sight also acts as a great reminder of how fun Elmore Leonard's characters can be. It has become a cliché in publishing to call a crime writer with a lean style "the next Elmore Leonard", but there was so much more than simplicity to his style. Leonard wrote these cartoonish, larger-than-life characters without any pretense of realism. He prioritized wit and comedy over edginess, but his characters were so much fun and brazen that they came off as edgy anyway. This comic book-like spirit is a crucial element to Out of Sight because it enhances the weird, dreamlike atmosphere of the movie. It doesn't need to feel real to have emotional resonance. This is a movie about love blurring the protagonists' priorities and the fact that it's a pure fantasy relieves of its inherent tragedy.
Steven Soderbergh (the good Soderbergh, who still had his fastball) and Elmore Leonard were a match made in heaven. The former's sophisticated eye and ambitious storytelling complemented the latter's boundless simplicity, to create something new and challenging. Sure, Out of Sight is chaotically put together and kind of hard to follow, but it's never alienating. It's the warped fantasy of leaping over the thin blue line to experience a one-in-a-lifetime romantic getaway. What it doesn't have in emotional potency, it makes for in originality and unpredictability