'Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.' ~ André Malraux
Once again I revisited an old favorite, 'Out Of Sight' (1998), not least because it stands as the most definitive example of Elmore Leonard on-screen. It has a terrific script by 'Get Shorty' (1995) writer Scott Frank. It also has a cameo from Michael Keaton, as a special task force agent, searching for escapees. In a setting that encompasses both of Leonard's traditional stomping grounds - Florida and Detroit. There is a cast of unforgettable characters double-crossing each other in a cracking plot of sex, violence and whip-smart dialogue (all directed with a career-reviving zeal by Steven Soderbergh). A deceptively tricky timeline masterfully reassembled by veteran editor Anne V. Coates (she recently passed away), whose credits include 'Lawrence Of Arabia', (1962) 'Chaplin' (1992) and 'In the Line of Fire' (1993) lays it out; bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney), in the part that set the stage for the decade and more of great work to come, as he bounced back from the disaster of 'Batman & Robin' (1997). He has busted out of jail, taking Federal Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez, in my opinion never again not even half as good as she is here) hostage in her trunk. The reason for his outbreak is he's got a final caper in mind; pinching diamonds from toupeed white-collar criminal Richard Ripley (Albert Brooks), but former prison mate Snoop (Don Cheadle) has designs on the same score as well.
With Sisco on his tail, can Jack keep his mind on the job? Or might he have found something more important? Frank and Soderbergh keep the narrative moving propulsively, but find plenty of time to stop and catch their breath with a cast of characters that might be Leonard's finest, including Dennis Farina, as Karen's dad, Steve Zahn's hapless Glenn Michaels, Ving Rhames' loyal Buddy Bragg, Catherine Keener's magician's assistant Adele, Luis Guzman's escaped con Chino, Isaiah Washington's sinister Kenneth, and even a one-scene wonder from Viola Davis. The director, relishing his second chance after having had a string of under-performing pictures, gives the film a New Wave pop, but there's a darkness and sadness here too that underlays the laugh-out-loud moments without undermining them. It's an incredible masterpiece, one of the best crime pictures of the last few decades, and to my mind, the finest Elmore Leonard adaptation I have seen, at par or maybe better than 'Get Shorty'.
Finally a film adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel that really captures the author's seedy South Floridian love of small-time hoods and big-time losers. Granted, 'Jackie Brown' (1997) mined similar territory some months back, but Soderbergh pares Leonard down to his essentials, playing around with the timeline à la Leonard, and just generally having a lighter, wackier time of it. It's gritty enough to stay true to the source material's comedy-of-despair ethos, yet solid enough to pack a punch, and in doing so it makes for one of the better heist movies in some time. Clooney, looking and acting way above par here, plays career thief Jack Foley, who in a lovingly realized opening scene finds himself in the Glades Correctional Institution after botching an endearingly simplistic bank robbery. Dismayed by the fact that he's not scheduled to see parole for three decades, he breaks out of prison and more trouble in the form of Deputy Federal Marshall Karen Sisco (Lopez), who just happened to be in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time. With the help of partner Buddy Bragg (Rhames), Foley ditches Karen (but not before some serious brake-light rapport is established between the pair) and moves forward with his big plan to rob another ex-con -- insider trader Richard Ripley (Brooks) -- of a reported $5 million in uncut diamonds. When stoner car thief Glenn Michaels (Zahn, doing his best Jim Breuer impression brings him the inside scoop. Plans go awry (don't they always?) when hair-trigger Maurice ‘Snoopy’ Miller (Don Cheadle) cuts himself in on the action.
A host of terrific bit players round out Soderbergh's film: Catherine Keener turns up as Foley's ex-squeeze Adele, Isaiah Washington appears as Snoopy's psychotic brother Kenneth, an uncredited Michael Keaton reprises his ‘Jackie Brown’ role as FBI agent Ray Nicolette, another and also uncredited Samuel L. Jackson plays a fellow con in the film's closing scene. Although 'Out of Sight's whipsawing storyline feels off-putting at first, as the flashbacks-within-flashbacks begin drawing to a head, Soderbergh's obvious glee at playing with linear conventions shines through. It's also readily apparent that the actors are enjoying themselves immensely; more than anything else, 'Out of Sight' captures Leonard's sense of the indefatigable appeal of the downtrodden grifter. Clooney, with his cockeyed half-grin, sparks some real chemistry alongside the tempestuous Lopez, and Albert Brooks -- with his flagrantly shoddy hairpiece and all – is a sublime hoot. Soderbergh's film has a Sixties pop art feel to it, from the European-styled one-sheet poster on down to his frequent use of freeze-frames and snazzy edits. Hardly a serious caper film, 'Out of Sight' instead takes a lighter approach, effortlessly offering up as many unexpected chuckles as it does bullets.
© Frank Borsellino™
© From Where I Sit™
May 10, 2018
* George Clooney - 'Out of Sight' (1998)