Speaking on behalf of all average-looking males worldwide, I can categorically say that most of the time we are not at all envious of the ridiculously good-looking Hollywood stars that occasionally plop like beautiful shining nuggets into our day via adverts on the sides of buses / entertainment stories on websites / billboards announcing a new brand of coffee maker / the occasional film. We’re happy with our Mr Potato Head-lite faces, our unkempt thinning hair and our little patches of dry skin around the lower base of the neck. We’re happy with our pot bellies, our hairy backs, our long earlobes, our large feet and even our occasional colds that make us sniffle and sneeze and sound like fools. Most of the time.
Occasionally, however, we come across a Hollywood leading man that is so good-looking, so effortless in the way he shows off his innate coolness and charm and handsome chiselled-ness on the silver screen (as if he were some kind of 15ft-high hybrid of a peacock with The Fonz’s face), that we can only stare downwards toward our feet, cowed by the very presence of an image of this magical millionaire. Suddenly we are ashamed of ourselves, disgusted with our own defects and foibles and imperfections and inability to impress women with our terrible dancing. Brothers, we have suffered silently for far too long! We must rise as one and we must fight back immediately. We must prevail by bringing down these false bronzed gods. Are you with me? Then repeat after me: “No more Clooney! No more Clooney! No more Clooney!”
Actually, truth be told, I quite like old Gorgeous George. Leaving aside his appearance for one moment, he has certainly made plenty of interesting career moves as both an actor and as a director. He’s also – usually – pretty good in whatever he appears in. He’s actually very careful not to ram home his utter smoothness too often, but every now and again he’ll over-smug it in a part and as you watch the film you’ll be probably forget all those light-hearted roles that have gone before and start to hiss “Oh ffffffffffffffffffffff….” throughout until one final ultrabright smile (or even the mere raising of one corner of the actor’s mouth) too many will probably act as a tipping point, forcing you into a snarling, vicious “…fffffff…uck off Clooney”.
In Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight, which I watched again after reading this excellent review, Clooney plays a career bankrobber by the name of Jack Foley, who falls for FBI agent Karen Cisco (Jennifer Lopez) against a backdrop of warm Floridian sunshine and cold Detroit snow. Foley is a confident, smart and sharp criminal, and thus every inch of Clooney’s charm is required to bring Elmore Leonard’s creation to life. The actor therefore gives it both barrels, and even long-standing fans will struggle to fight back their perfectly reasonable envy and hatred. Perhaps women feel the same way about Lopez’s Cisco, who smoulders from scene to scene while trading come-to-bed glances with Foley. Despite the fact we are presented here with a sex-bomb FBI agent who is prone to wielding a huge shotgun and wearing hotpants, and a dashingly smart criminal who can talk his way out of any situation with a smile and a quick word, it is to the credit of Leonard (plus screenwriter Scott Frank), Clooney, Lopez and Soderbergh that the on-screen versions of these characters are far more than just mere eye candy.
Considered to be the best film adaptation of Leonard’s work (though I have a lot of time for both Jackie Brown (aka the novel Rum Punch) and Get Shorty), Out Of Sight begins with Foley robbing a bank using nothing more dangerous than his invention and knowledge of banking practice. Straight away the dialogue, with its rapidly-slick talk of dye-packs and bait money, is fascinating; it sets the snappy, quickfire tone for the rest of the film in the first scene. We have lost a truly great writer with Leonard’s recent passing.
Despite his smoothness, Foley is caught by the police and ends up back in jail, but he enlists the help of his ex, Adele Delisi (Catherine Keener) and right-hand man Buddy (Ving Rhames) to help him escape, and he piggybacks on another breakout attempt led by an inmate called Chino (Luis Guzman). After running into Cisco during the prison break, Foley and Buddy take her hostage, before meeting up with fellow ex-con Glen Michaels (Steve Zahn). Cisco convinces the stoned Michaels to leave with her, and she subsequently escapes. Trouble is, in the few minutes they spent together in the trunk of Buddy’s car, there was a spark of attraction between Foley and Cisco, and it plays on the mind of both.
The action occasionally leaps back in time to show Buddy and Foley during a previous prison term, where Foley helps convicted Wall Street financier Richard Ripley (Albert Brooks) negotiate the pitfalls of daily life in the Big House. Chief among Ripley’s antagonists is an ex-boxer named Snoopy Miller (Don Cheadle, so menacing here you wonder what on earth has happened to the actor in recent years), and when the action cuts back to the present, Foley, Miller, Michaels and Buddy are all intent on breaking into Ripley’s Michigan mansion in order to steal a rumoured stash of diamonds.
* I’m thinking here particularly of Tarantino’s first three films, but also True Romance, Two Days In The Valley (an underrated gem) and Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead (an even more underrated gem).
While the heist/caper movie is nothing new, under Soderbergh’s sure-handed direction – and thanks to Leonard’s typewriter - Out Of Sight feels fresh enough to force the viewer to forget about the patchy but occasionally brilliant history of the genre. It certainly compares well to other crime films of the period, many of which were equally peppered with interesting minor characters and cameos.* Tarantino recognized the importance of making his character’s attractions to each other believable (Slater / Arquette, Thurman / Travolta, Grier / Forster) and Leonard and Soderbergh ensure that the relationship at the core of this film feels believable, even if it is ludicrously smooth. Clooney and Lopez have an excellent on-screen chemistry, which crackles and fizzes whenever they are together. Had Lopez made more decisions like this (see also Oliver Stone’s U-Turn) in the last ten years, she may well have enjoyed a far more interesting acting career than one that includes a long list of dismal rom-coms. She is very good here.
Clooney’s character is perhaps the most interesting in the film, seemingly locked in this depressing cycle of robbery and capture and imprisonment and escape, but he still manages to make it all seem vaguely glamourous. But in a way Foley is every bit as trapped by his job (with the attendant lifestyle played out in low-and-high rise hotels) as Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham in Jason Reitman’s Oscar-nominated 2009 film Up In The Air. Foley is also too wedded to the relationships he has formed in prisons, and is unable to truly break away from that life, and the support it offers him, in order to properly form a lasting crime-free one with a woman. For all his good looks and effortless charm, Foley actually deserves the pity of the brotherhood of average-looking men, it would seem. Who woulda thunk it?
The supporting cast is, across the board, very very good. You will want to see more of Guzman, Keener, Zahn and Cheadle, as well as Dennis Farina (who plays Cisco’s father) and Michael Keaton (in a nice move playing Ray Nicolette, the same role he played in Tarantino’s Leonard adaptation Jackie Brown). Samuel L. Jackson even turns up at the end for a short epilogue scene, though it’s hardly surprising given that it was actually the law in the 1990s that every film dealing with criminal matters had to feature Samuel L Jackson for at least three minutes. But that’s OK, because Jackson’s wallet is the one that says “Bad Motherfucker” on it.
Florida looks great through Soderbergh’s lens (or rather that of Elliot Davis, the cinematographer who had worked previously as Director of Photography on Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead). It is perma-sunkissed and filled with bright primary colours, making the switch to Detroit mid-way through the film a stark contrast. The tone also becomes darker as more screen time is given to Miller and his cohorts, a threatening bunch who try, but can’t quite manage, to ruffle Foley’s peacock feathers.
Soderbergh employs some interesting techniques that look cool, such as freezeframes, and he tells the story using flashbacks and an out-of-sequence narrative structure (again nothing new, but perhaps more readily accepted by mass audiences post-Pulp Fiction). While he went even further in his next film, The Limey, with Editor Sarah Flack playing around with dialogue and background noise a little more to increase the disorientating, disjointed effect, it’s all executed very stylishly in Out Of Sight. The storyline is revealed teasingly through the flashbacks, but it’s always easy to follow.
David Holmes’s score is fittingly superb, too. Drawing from the likes of Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin, it’s supremely funky, and includes some great and relevant selections that sit well with the composer’s original material (The Isley Brothers, Willie Bobo, as well as a small sprinkle of the Rat Pack). It’s no wonder Soderbergh went back to the DJ for more of the same when making Ocean’s Eleven.
Leonard’s crime stories are all blessed with snappy, cool dialogue and fast action, but they are brought to life here with real flair. It’s a well-paced film, with well-drawn characters that all benefit from some solid, serious acting and a healthy dose of amusing comic turns. Soderbergh delivers a visual treat, too, but it’s not a case of style over substance. While it is not exactly intellectually taxing, Out Of Sight is a gripping cops-and-robbers flick with a romantic twist that, thanks to all of its constituent parts, stands up to some of the decade’s more celebrated crime dramas.
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Elmore Leonard, Scott Frank
Starring: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn, Ving Rhames
Running Time: 123 Minutes