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Out of Sight (1998)

November 22nd, 2007 · 9 Comments

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Jack Foley (George Clooney) storms out of an office building in Miami. He enters a bank across the street, and using the right words (“Is this your first time being robbed? You’re doing great”), gets the teller to hand over all her cash. He doesn’t get far. Incarcerated in “Glades Correctional Institution,” Foley notices fellow convict Chino (Luis Guzman) jogging, and learns the prisoner is digging his way out of prison after dark.

Foley phones his ex-wife, a magician’s assistant (Catherine Keener) and arranges for his guilt obsessed, ex-con friend Buddy (Ving Rhames) to be waiting with a car. Meanwhile, federal marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) is dispatched to Glades to serve a process. She ends up in the middle of the prison break. Foley disarms Karen and hides out with her in the trunk of the getaway car.

After being up close and personal, the couple is separated when Karen convinces Foley and Buddy’s stoner accomplice Glenn (Steve Zahn) to ditch his pals and drive her away. In a flashback to Lompoc Federal Penitentiary two years previous, Glenn informs Foley and Buddy that a Wall Street crook interned with them named Dick the Ripper (Albert Brooks) has $5 million in uncut diamonds at his house in Detroit. Dick has bought protection from a convict named Snoopy (Don Cheadle), who has his sights set on bigger ambitions.

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Back in the present, the marshal and her fugitive can’t get their minds off each other. Karen tracks down Chino, earning a spot on the hapless FBI team hunting Foley. She trails Glenn to Detroit, where Foley and Buddy intend to go through with their diamond burglary of Dick the Ripper’s mansion. Glenn has let Snoopy and his cohorts Kenneth (Isaiah Washington) and White Boy Bob (Keith Loneker) in on the score. Buddy wants to walk away, while Foley locates Karen at her hotel and asks her to dinner. She accepts.

Production history
Barry Sonnenfeld – who had directed Get Shorty, widely considered the best adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel up to that time – was attached to direct a screen version of the author’s 1996 novel Out of Sight. Get Shorty screenwriter Scott Frank had adapted the script. Sonnenfeld asked him what other movies he thought this one was supposed to be like. Frank couldn’t answer that.

Sonnenfeld preferred to direct something he was familiar with, and dropped out. Cameron Crowe and Mike Newell were offered the job and turned it down. Universal Pictures production chief Casey Silver thought of Steven Soderbergh next. Soderbergh had shot to success at age 26 when his first film – sex, lies and videotape – won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989.

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Soderbergh’s recent efforts – the Spalding Gray monologue Gray’s Anatomy, and the super low budget Schizopolis, which the director starred in himself – had been unwatchable. But Silver knew the director was a talent, and fiscally responsible. Soderbergh read the script, liked the material, and said no.

Silver urged him to reconsider. Soderbergh realized he had marginalized himself by only making small, idiosyncratic films, and agreed to helm the $48 million studio project, which George Clooney was attached to star in. Sandra Bullock read for the role of Karen Sisco, and while she and Clooney had great chemistry, Soderbergh felt it “wasn’t Elmore Leonard energy.” Jennifer Lopez had the verve Soderbergh was looking for, and won the part.

Universal planned to release Out of Sight in the fall, but when their tentpole event Meet Joe Black ran into production delays, Out of Sight was moved into multiplexes June 1998. Despite rave reviews, the unconventional, character driven caper did not catch on with summertime audiences, grossing $37 million in the U.S. The film’s creative pedigree got the attention of the industry, and Soderbergh was elevated to the status of A-list director.

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In contrast to the cream puff Ocean’s Eleven films Soderbergh would later direct Clooney in, to watch Out of Sight is to realize you’re sitting at the grownups table. The movie offers little in the way of instant gratification, but rewards the patience of the audience with an audacious story structure, intricate and sophisticated wit, great casting and a kinky, electric current that makes me grin whenever I watch this.

The film unfolds in a fractured timeline, starting in the middle, occasionally shifting back to the beginning and moving forward again, until someone recalls something we weren’t shown the first time. The colorful characters and sharp dialogue Elmore Leonard is renowned for are on full display here, but Scott Frank deserves a lot of credit for capturing the complexity of a good novel in his script, which challenges the audience, instead of catering to them.

Almost every character has a memorable scene, or flurry of terrific dialogue. The A+ cast – which also includes Dennis Farina, Viola Davis, Nancy Allen and reprising his role of Ray Nicolette from Jackie Brown, Michael Keaton – is more than game. Out of Sight is a must-see for Quentin Tarantino fans, but what distinguishes it is the kinky electricity that courses through the film. Clooney and Lopez’s sex scene is a highlight, as is the fantastic retro musical score by David Holmes.

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Lisa Skrzyniarz at Crazy For Cinema writes, “Out of Sight will not be remembered in a listing of greatest films of all time, but it sure is one of the most enjoyable ones I’ve seen all year. Not everyone is smart, but they all have something to say. The dialogue in this film is clean, crisp, funny and honest.”

“Sensual cinematography, a retro-beat soundtrack, a diverse time-line and flattering freeze-frames effect a silky cadence, transgressed only by an underlying wit. The idiosyncratic characters clinch the tone,” writes Elspeth Haughton at Apollo Movie Guide.

Harold Gervais at DVD Verdict writes, “Out of Sight was one of the best films of 1998. It is sexy and funny. It has great acting on every level and inventive direction with very smart writing. Since it is also one of Universal’s best discs, I see no reason why this one should not be on every collector’s shelf.”

“I’ve vertically integrated myself. Now I’m into the occasional grand larceny, home invasion.” View the 1998 theatrical trailer.

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Based on novel · Bathtub scene · Cult favorite · Father/daughter relationship · Gangsters and hoodlums · Heist · Unconventional romance

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hedwig // Nov 23, 2007 at 3:14 am

    Ok, I need to get that poster on the left. I’d never seen it, it’s amazing, much better than the “faces” poster that you usually see.

    I love this film. It’s a ‘comfort film’ for me: watching it will always make me feel better, more relaxed. And that scene in the back of the trunk is a wonder.

    I didn’t know Sandra Bullock was originally in the running for the Karen Sisco part. Far be it from me to defend La Lopez’ acting abilities, but in this particular film, I don’t think anyone could have done better.

  • 2 Megan // Nov 25, 2007 at 3:42 am

    I saw this when it came out, and have had trouble going back to it since — simply because of outside influences. I hate it when I let that stuff mess with a film I know is good.

    I don’t know if I can watch it again, without seeing capital G-George and capital J-Lo.

  • 3 Jeremy // Nov 26, 2007 at 9:04 am

    Great post…this is one of my all time favorite films. I just adore it and have probably seen it close to a dozen times…I think Clooney is masterful in it, and I don’t care how far Lopez strays, I will always respect her because of how fantastic she is as Karen Sisco…and that David Holmes score is just sublime. I wish they would release the unreleased bits on cd…astonishing film…and great novel to boot.

  • 4 Joe Valdez // Nov 26, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Hedwig: The poster you mention is one of the best of all time. Steven Soderbergh’s films tend to have memorable posters. This one for The Limey is just as great. As for Jennifer Lopez, Karen Sisco was really the role of a career, and she’s never been better as an actress. The same could be said for Carla Gugino, who played the part in the short lived TV series.

    Megan: “Outside influences”? Just pretend Lopez never entered a recording studio. She doesn’t sing in the movie, which is probably the best demonstration of her talent out there.

    Jeremy: Thanks for your insightful comments, as always! It’s astonishing how great music can elevate a film to a whole other level, and Soderbergh caught a break hiring David Holmes to do the music here. I’m surprised his entire score isn’t available on the Internet somewhere.

  • 5 Jeremy // Nov 27, 2007 at 9:08 am

    I also wanted to throw in some love for Gugino as Karen Sisco…I loved that series and am still burned that it was cancelled so quickly…Sisco is one of the great modern characters and so far she has had two terrific actresses give her life…great stuff…I agree about that poster too…it’s hanging in my apartment and it is a beauty…

  • 6 Hal O'Brien // Nov 30, 2007 at 3:09 am

    Hedwig: The “deco” poster (which is how I think of it, because of the typeface) is what they based the soundtrack CD on.

    Joe: The internet is less of a resource for music than many people think. Or, it tends to skew toward very mainstream popular stuff — many is the time I’ll hear something in streaming from, say,, or Swedish radio (, or just my local community radio station (KBCS) — and not be able to find it.

    That said, yeah, Holmes’ score is great. As is Cliff Martinez’ for “Solaris.”

    “Out of Sight” is one of my all-time favorites. I’m partial to caper films in general (“The Thief Who Came to Dinner,” “The Hot Rock,” “To Catch a Thief,” etc.), but I feel this is very well done.

    Re Ms. Lopez — well, this movie’s proof that sometimes, a director really can matter.

    If it comes to that, this movie has historical importance because it’s the first Clooney-Soderbergh collaboration, and given their burgeoning empire — not just in their usual roles, but Clooney directing, and both producing — that’s a relationship that’s producing more and more worthy material.

  • 7 Joe Valdez // Nov 30, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Hal:Thanks for your terrific comment and for singing the praises of the caper film, which I feel gets overlooked in favor of the gangster film.

    I believe the reason Jennifer Lopez soars in Out of Sight is because of Elmore Leonard and Scott Frank’s writing – as Jeremy pointed out, Karen Sisco is one of the great modern movie characters – as well as the foresight of the casting directors and Soderbergh in selecting her for the role. While a director does matter and deserves part of the credit, I think all of these people deserve “props” for Lopez’s electric performance.

  • 8 Piper // Dec 13, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Lisa at Crazy For Cinema is just plain crazy. This is one of the best heist movies out there. Glad that Sonnenfeld passed. I love Get Shorty and feel it’s a good adaptation, but it had no depth and no darkness that is prominent in Leonard’s work. This is a movie I can pick up at any time and watch. And for some reason that translates as a fun but not great movie and I think that’s crap. The movie can be both and this one is.

    It’s also worth noting David Holmes’ outstanding music for this. This movie makes you feel cool for watching it, not unlike a Leonard novel.

  • 9 Robert // Feb 25, 2008 at 9:48 am


    Great review. It’s hard not to forget that Soderbergh directed the uber-artsy Kafka along with the more mainstream films he now seems to be most recognized for. Section 8 was perhaps the most important production company during its run and his work with George Clooney beyond the Ocean’s films was simply a miracle. It’s not the “empire” one of your readers mentioned that’s noteworthy, but what they’ve done with their imperium. That two people chose to use their wealth and mojo in the way they have is amazing to me. A look through Soderbergh’s production credits on IMDB is interesting: I’m Not There, Through a Scanner Darkly, Syriana, Michael Clayton. And Bubble, which shows what Soderbergh can still do with no budget, was one of the best uses of DV (not to mention amateur actors, and a continuously evolving script) I’ve seen. There are few people in cinema I’d like to know, but Soderbergh is one.

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