Out of Sight (1998)

Over the course of his life, Jack Foley (George Clooney) has robbed over 200 banks. He has done this all without a gun. The film’s opening scene has him easily rob a bank, only to be foiled when his car decides not to start. Some time later, he manages to escape, but only with a U.S. Marshal, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), stuck in the trunk of a car with him. They engage in some interesting dialogue, and there’s a spark between them. Despite being on opposite sides of the law, they might have just fallen in love.

Now that’s an interesting hook to a film. What’s more surprising is how it’s handled. The characters think about one another but they rarely get even a glimpse of the one on their minds. Karen has to (ostensibly, at least) move onto other cases, such as the other escapees from the prison break, while Jack moves around to a couple of different cities, all while planning One Last Job, which involves robbing a rich man he met in prison of $5 million in uncut diamonds. They two cross paths every now and then but they rarely get to exchange so much as a wave.

So, we have a charming leading man (who just happens to be a career criminal), a tough U.S. Marshall, a whole host of interesting supporting characters, a sharp script and a strong plot. You have all the elements of a good movie here. Thank Elmore Leonard for that, as it’s his novel which has been adapted to the big screen. Now, in the hands of a good director, we’ll have a pretty great movie. Steven Soderbergh was behind Out of Sight, and he does a fantastic job with the material.

Some of the stylistic flourishes aren’t — and couldn’t be — present in the novel. Our sense of time is messed with. Some scenes are intercut with moments that will happen later. The opening scene actually has more to it than what we initially see, and takes on a more humorous approach one we learn more. Some freeze frames are added which perfect specific moments. Out of Sight has fantastic editing, and the way everything is timed aids both its comedy and romance.

Out of Sight isn’t a straightforward comedy, but it does contain many moments of humor. It has a very light tone, and you’ll find yourself laughing quite often. Again, timing is pivotal, although the sharp, intelligent script and the delivery of the actors are both also crucial. There aren’t a lot of pauses when people communicate with each other; everyone is smart and doesn’t need to think long about what they’re going to say. You’re kept on your toes while watching and listening, and you’re not going to have time to overthink things.

It all works because of the actors. George Clooney can charm with the best of them, but he shows a genuine sense of comedic timing here. Jennifer Lopez is more the “straight man,” so to speak, and that works in nice contrast to Clooney, who is more jovial. Together, they light up the screen. They have great chemistry and as a result you can actually believe that, even though they don’t know each other well and have only interacted a few times, their love is real.

Out of Sight is fantastically paced. I don’t think there was a single moment when I was bored. I was entertained and interested throughout. I wanted to see what would happen to Jack Foley and Karen Sisco, and I could remember their names because they’re strongly characterized. No scenes needed to be cut, and none really needed to be added. It all works together in a magical way that almost makes you forget you’re watching a movie. Isn’t that just so rare? When two hours can speed by without you thinking about anything else?

If there’s one distraction, it happens right at the end. While he goes uncredited, Samuel L. Jackson shows up and it just took me right out of the movie. This is especially true because another of Elmore Leonard’s novels, Rum Punch, was adapted into Jackie Brown, which featured Jackson in a prominent role. And the films take place in a shared universe, or so it would seem, considering Michael Keaton has a cameo in this one, playing the same character he did in Jackie Brown. Samuel L. Jackson’s presence in a movie is usually welcome, but it’s a distraction in this one.

Part of Out of Sight‘s success can be attributed to its world-building. Both inside of the prison Jack winds up in and outside, we’re introduced to such interesting characters and situations that we feel like a part of their world, niche as it is. The characters are complex, richly motivated and wonderfully acted. And because it isn’t dumbed down, you’re actually going to have a little bit to think about while it’s playing, primarily in respect to whether Karen is hoping to arrest or run away with Jack.

Out of Sight is an example of great source material being translated wonderfully into a film. Elmore Leonard’s novel has been faithfully adapted and turned into a great movie, enhanced with techniques only available to the world of cinema. It has good actors with strong, sharp, smart dialogue, it plays with timing and editing, it has an interesting plot and characters, and it immerses you right up until the end. This is a thrilling and funny movie.

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