Sunday, March 25, 2012

"You Were Ice Cream For Freaks!": George Clooney in Out of Sight (1998)

Every time I watch Out of Sight (1998) I try to find something wrong with it. And every time, I come up empty-handed.

Tightly paced, funny, dramatic, romantic, and downright exhilarating (in a sly, charming way), Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of Elmore Leonard's book is, quite possibly, one of the very best films of the 1990s.

Out of Sight (1998) is one of the very rare Hollywood films that doesn't insult one's intelligence. Sure, it's a glossy piece of product, but it's a smart one.

And, unlike the disposable products of Tarantino's factory of gimmicks, Soderbergh plays with the narrative here to serve a larger narrative purpose. The flash-backs actually matter here; no Pulp Fiction (1994)-style jerking the viewer around.

No, Soderbergh is interested in the characters first and the situation second. If sex or violence occur in the world of Out of Sight (1998) those actions have consequences for the characters. The sexual tension between the characters of Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney feels real and believable, not because they are both beautiful creatures but because we get to know the characters first. They are vulnerable souls on opposite sides of the law in this modern bit of real pulp fiction. And when someone gets shot, or seduced, it changes the course of the story.

The title of this blog post comes from the scene where Clooney tries to fly right post-prison and gets the shaft and shown the door from Albert Brooks' Dick Ripley and his goons...

Every member of the cast is uniformly excellent. Steve Zahn actually adds depth to a routine sort of stoner role; watch his face in that scene after he's forced to off the tranny with Cheadle and his thugs.

And Don Cheadle? Man, oh, man, do I love that guy. As Snoopy Miller, he's alternately hilarious and terrifying here. Cheadle is clearly having fun with the role and it shows -- "Reading is fundamental and shit." -- but he never quite turns the guy into a sympathethic figure. Snoopy is a monster and he's got a bunch of monsters in his gang with even less charm.

Kudos also to Ving Rhames clearly cast against type -- I think I read somewhere that Buddy was supposed to be an older white guy -- Rhames plays it low-key here, not quite so menacing as he was in Tarantino's film. He's the conscience of Clooney's Foley as well.

The always excellent Dennis Farina and Michael Keaton make appearances. And there's a nice cameo at the end of the film as well.

But Clooney scores for the win here. Cocky but inept -- dig that cheap suit in the Ripley scene which leads back into the film's opening scene -- and he's one of those cons with a heart of gold but he makes a believable one.

What makes him a thrilling actor here is that, despite being a thief, he's the voice of morality in this film, less interested in the loot than he is in having a way out of his current life.

Jennifer Lopez is pretty good here. As Karen Sisco, she's the right degree of bad-ass even if she seems a bit hesitant in this early starring role.

But Clooney owns Out of Sight (1998). No mean feat to outshine Cheadle, Rhames, Brooks, Keaton, and so on.

Clooney's Foley is a guy whose swagger has been depleted. He's had his ass kicked by life a few times and his cons are not working anymore.

He's the guy who's seen the end of the road and it's looking more and more like a life behind bars for him -- dig that early scene of Foley scoping out the lifers in the prison.

He's the guy who wants a better life but doesn't quite know how to get it.

Clooney's Foley is the moral man in a world of immorality.

No wonder he was an awful bank-robber.