Cinemalphabet: O is for Out of Sight (1998)
Blame it on Jackie Brown or my inexplicable late 90s dislike of Clooney, but I was not feeling Out of Sight upon its theatrical release. I can’t recall if I had any specific thoughts about Soderbergh, who had not yet made Ocean’s 11 or Traffic, two films I count as solid faves. That said, in the mid to late 90s adaptations of Elmore Leonard’s work or knockoffs of his flow in indie films – which all seemed to feature Stephen Dorff – were as plentiful as slap bracelets and floppy candy raver top hats. By the time Out of Sight came I was probably found the whole aesthetic fatiguing.
When I finally succumbed to Netflix’s relentless campaign to get me to watch it I instantly regretted not doing so YEARS ago. George Clooney gives one of his great ex-con-with-a-heart-of-gold performances, which he would later perfect in the Ocean’s franchise. Clooney stars as career bank robber Jack Foley who we meet on the day he manages to botch a bank robbery and land himself in jail (again). Out of Sight cleverly plays with audience’s sense of its timeline, which at time probably was totally fresh, but now kind of feels obligatory and dare I say quaint. As with Jackie Brown there is a beautiful, bad ass woman at the center of galaxy of inept, foolish greedy motherfuckers.
Jennifer Lopez is both radiant as US Marshall Karen Sisco who meets Jack Foley during the middle of his prison break. Tossed in the trunk together with their bodies impossibly close, Sisco and Foley set light to their steamy, slow burn chemistry, which at times gets the better of their judgement. What I loved about J-Lo’s characterization of Sisco is how flawed she is, without being completely being inept at her job. She is great at tracking fugitives and spends a lot of time around criminally minded people (on both sides of the law), so it does make sense she’s not always adept at making healthy relationship choices. Whether it’s pining for an emotionally unavailable and totally shady FBI agent played by Michael Keaton (reprising his role from Jackie Brown) to the dashing criminal she’s been tasked to apprehend. It’s all steaminess, ice slowly melting in highball glasses and terrible relationship choices in Sisco’s emotional world.
As for the heist itself, well that’s where things are actually less complicated. With the exception of Foley and his road dog Buddy (Ving Rhames) everyone else eyeing the uncut diamonds white collar criminal Richard Ripley (Albert Brooks wearing a bald cap or something) is pretty much a totally idiot. Maurice Miller (Don Cheadle) an ex-con wannabe mastermind assembles a group of fellow cons who are trying to get the diamonds before Jack and Buddy can. The results in a fantastic clusterfuck at Ripley’s mansion where everything that could go wrong does and in a spectacular, hilarious manner. Cheadle is a good sport as Maurice and delivers variation on his familiar on screen persona. A pre-homophobic, bigoted meltdown Isaiah Washington is also good in his limited screen time as one of Maurice’s hoods who has an unfortunate tangle with Sisco.
Because the film draws its narrative tension not in the heist or even in the relationship concerns of its leads, there are moments when the tone feels a bit uneven. Even though I was laughing at the snappy dialog and the unfortunate situations characters found themselves in, there were times when I wondered whether or not the film would actually have a satisfying resolution. Thankfully, it does, though it was not one I actually expected and I liked that. Leaving the ending ambiguous resulted in a heist film capably both elevating itself from the tropes of the genre and also having fun with them.