The funny thing about Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 movie Out of Sight isn’t that it looks like a warm-up to Soderbergh’s 2001 movie Ocean’s 11, but that Out of Sight is actually a romance dressed up as a Crime Caper film. The film, written by Scott Frank from a novel by Elmore Leonard (“Get Shorty”), stars George Clooney as a dashing career criminal who dares to attempt “one last job” before going straight, all because of his love for a woman who, because of his profession, he can never really have — that is, unless he proves to her that he can go straight, or at least make an effort. Sound familiar? It’s almost the identical premise of Ocean. The only thing that sets the two films apart is that Out of Sight takes itself a little bit more seriously (just a little bit more, but not by much) and its romance between its two leads is a lot more believable and passionate.
George Clooney stars as Jack Foley, a career bank robber who prides himself on never having robbed a single bank with a gun. Of course that doesn’t prevent Jack from getting arrested and thrown in prison over and over again. When Jack plots a jailbreak from his latest incarceration, he encounters U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), who has come to the same prison to pick up a prisoner for transport. After interfering in the jailbreak, Karen is abducted by Jack and his partner-in-crime Buddy (Ving Rhames). The trio flees, with Karen and Jack hiding out in the trunk of the getaway car, and that’s when things get interesting…
Out of Sight possesses that tired old clich’ of Last Big Job Before Retirement that has been used to death in Heist and Crime Caper films; but what makes this Last Job different is that the job itself isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the cat-and-mouse dance that’s going on between Jack and Karen. Once Jack escapes prison and Karen escapes him, the two begins chasing each other. Despite the fact that the FBI is after him, Jack is only concern with introducing his way into Karen’s life; Karen for her part finds herself irresistibly drawn to the career criminal.
Early in the film, while trapped in the trunk of the getaway car, Karen and Jack talk movies, and one of the subjects that come up is the unbelievable romance that takes place in some movies. Karen mentions that the romance happens so fast she can’t swallow it. Jack agrees. And just like that, they’ve become obsessed with each other, and it’s not unbelievable at all. The camerawork by Soderbergh, using moving close-ups and quick cuts to pick up small reactions from the two actors, are incredible. Talk about sparks.
Besides the romance angle, the other plots of Out of Sight are pretty simple, although the film does go out of its way to try to confuse you. Soderbergh and writer Scott Frank uses flashbacks going back a year, sometimes two years, to fill us in on details that the movie hasn’t bothered to mention up to that point. The flashbacks are done without context and if you don’t pay attention the movie may seem more complex than it really is.
Of course, the Crime Caper plot is just background noise while Soderbergh maneuvers Jack and Karen in and out of each other’s lives. The two actors do an amazing job, and it’s ironic that George Clooney’s character in Ocean’s 11 could never make me believe he was willing to risk everything to get Julia Robert’s character back. I had no trouble believing that Clooney’s Jack in Out of Sight would do anything to get into Karen Sisco’s life. Jennifer Lopez is perfectly cast as the tough U.S. Marshal with a soft spot for the criminal; Clooney’s Jack is smart and bent on breaking the law, but he’s never dangerous for a single second, not even with a gun in his hand.
Soderbergh handles the directorial chores, as always, with style. The film moves at a good pace and before you know it the film is over, and you wish there was more. Soderbergh is also an old hand with handling terrific actors. Besides Clooney and Lopez, Soderbergh regulars Don Cheadle shows up as Snoopy, a murderous ex-boxer; Steve Zahn as Glenn, a soft-in-the-head stoner criminal; and Luiz Guzman as escaped convict Chino. Also in the cast is Dennis Farina as Karen’s dad and Albert Brooks as a balding crooked millionaire who everyone is after.
Unlike Ocean’s 11, which had no semblance of seriousness and seemed like nothing more than an exercise in style, Out of Sight is actually a much better movie. It’s more down-to-Earth and there is a feeling that things can go wrong — terribly wrong — for our hero at any moment. Whereas I never doubted for a second that anything bloody could take place in Ocean’s 11 or that the whole thing would not turn out rosy, Out of Sight maintained a very real sense of danger and tension, and at the same time, hopeless romanticism. I only wish Ocean’s 11 had been half this good — or at the very least Jennifer Lopez could have stepped into the Julia Roberts role.
Steven Soderbergh (director) / Elmore Leonard (novel), Scott Frank (screenplay)
CAST: George Clooney …. Jack Foley
Jennifer Lopez …. Karen Sisco
Ving Rhames …. Buddy Bragg
Don Cheadle …. Snoopy
Dennis Farina …. Marshall Sisco
Albert Brooks …. Dick the Ripper