Steven Soderbergh Blogathon-Out of Sight
2013 saw the passing away of many a great personality- Nelson Mandela, Peter O Toole, Joan Fontaine, James Gandolfini, the tragic death of Paul Walker at a young age in an accident, and closer home in India, we had screen legends Pran, Manna Dey bidding farewell, along with Farooque Sheikh, an actor who symbolized the middle of road cinema. Tucked away among these obituaries was one more, Elmore John Leonard Jr, one of the most prolific crime fiction writers, who merged style and substance, managing to churn out engaging stories with intelligence and wit in them. It is not surprising, that Elmore Leonard, has been a source for directors ranging from Quentin Tarantino( Jackie Brown, based on Rum Punch) to Barry Sonnenfield( Get Shorty) to James Mangold( 3:1o to Yuma). Soderbergh has been a bit of an enigma to me, his movies are always visually brilliant, no two thoughts about it, it has been the substance part, that has been inconsistent, at times brilliant, and yet at times, frustrating. Out of Sight, is one of Soderbergh’s more commercial flicks, you have a charming crook, an equally hot looking female cop on his chase, and an assorted bunch of crooks after Mr.Charming. No it is not really profound or one of those movies that make you think, it is as commercial as it comes, but Soderbergh elevates it straight up with his style. Using flashbacks, a narrative that goes back and forth, freeze frames, he lets it flow all at a gentle, languid pace, allowing the atmosphere to soak in. What could have been an exercise in car chases and explosions in the hands of any other director, becomes more of a mental cat and mouse game, with both characters, playing on each other’s mind.
Now take one of those big envelopes and put as many hundreds, fifties and twenties as you can pack into it. Nothing with bank straps or rubber bands. I don’t want any dye packs. I don’t want any bait money. Start with the second drawer and then the one over there, under the computer. Come on, Loretta, the key’s right there next to you. No bills off the bottom of the drawer.
Soderbergh sets up the mood of the movie in the very first scene itself, when Jack Foley( George Clooney) goes to rob a bank. There are no shoot outs here, nor any scenes of chaos, screams of people around, loud shouting. Jack just walks up coolly to the bank teller, and flashing his charming smile, brings it on, informing the teller she is being robbed. The atmosphere seems normal, as Jack talks to the teller, like any other customer, only here he is just threatening her in the most understated way. “First time being robbed?, You are doing great, just smile Loretta, so you won’t look like you are being held up”. And so we have Jack, all smiles, cool as a cucumber, reducing the teller to a bundle of nerves, without having to put in much of an effort. Or so we do think, that Foley has all this neatly wrapped up, until he gets in his car, and then it does not start, and then he sees another cop, smiling back at him, pointing the gun, and as the screen fades, a basketball game, going on and the camera zooming in to Foley in a blue coverall and white T shirts, and then we see that it is a prison. Foley the charming, suave crook, has been outwitted, by a bunch of equally suave and smart cops.
And for all his suave, dapper nature, Jack Foley, is no spring chicken exactly. He is actually one of the older convicts, frequently goes out of breath, gets knocked around by other convicts, a sharp contrast to the suave, seemingly confident crook, he was in his earlier frame. Soderbergh, has been noted for realism, and here he sets it up rather well, the seemingly suave, charming Jack Foley, in reality a much older, out of breath convict, and not as smart as he seems either. But what counts for Foley, is that he has a quick eye, is observant enough, and does make good use of that. As in when he manages to talk in the two Latino convicts, Chino and Lulu, into hatching out the escape plan from prison. Or the way he is able to figure out that Chino has preponed his escape plan a much ahead of the Super Bowl Sunday they had planned earlier. We get to know Foley more, his years at the Lompoc Petinentiary in California, where he and his mate, Buddy( Ving Rhames) are witness to a “thrown” boxing match, and they also come across, Richard Ripley(Albert Brooks) , an ex Wall Street hot shot in prison for ripping off a whole lot of people. Ripley has a whole lot of cash, and diamonds in his up market Detroit suburbia home, which later on would actually be the center point of the plot too. On the other side we are introduced to Karen Sisco( Jeniffer Lopez), a rather hot looking US Marshal, currently dating another cop, who has been married, but now separated or rather about to be.
The jail break scene is again vintage Soderbergh style, the two Latinos coming out, in the headlights glare, and Karen, picking up the gun trying to fire on them. Before a group of young recruits, come out, and fire back on the Latinos escaping, and you have another emerging from the hole, face darkened, seemingly in league with the hacks, as they huddle around the shot convicts. The guy does seem to be one of the hacks, until we see it’s none other than Foley himself, who had earlier ratted to the guards about the possible jail break, and then smartly uses that to get away. Karen is overpowered soon enough by Foley and Buddy, and both are forced into the trunk, for what is possibly the movie’s best part. The cop and the convict, two people on the opposite sides of the fence, now forced together at one place, rather uncomfortably. The dialogue is smart, witty, as both characters, keep playing the mental games with each other, trying to get the advantage. Karen is a tough nut, beyond her dread drop gorgeous looks, she has the brains, the chutpzah and the tough as nails spirit. She is neither overwhelmed nor scared by the fact, that she is stuck up in the boot of the car with a convict on the run. No she would rather in her own words to Jack “just sit back, take it easy and wait for you to screw up”. Both of them love movies, and the conversation is peppered with references to 70’s classics like Bonnie and Clyde, Network and 3 Days Of the Condor.
Obviously drawing a lot from Elmore Leonard, Soderbergh, draws on the other characters in the script, each of whom has an important role to play. So you have the 3rd partner of Jack and Buddy, Glenn Michaels( Steve Zahn), a man whom Jack has nothing but utter contempt, a man who has a “vacant lot for a head” in Jack’s own words. Jack has no love lost for Glenn, his otherwise cool and composed demeanor goes for a toss, with him. He sees Glenn as a ditzy, opportunist, whom he could never trust at all, unlike Buddy, who feels that Glenn is needed for their mission. In fact Buddy is a loss to understand why Jack is tagging along Karen for the mission, when it’s obvious she would be a dead give away. Karen in the meantime plays on Glenn’s own insecurity, she remembers him, as she “never forgets any one whom she cuffed and shackled”. So while Buddy and Jack, discuss over whether it is worth taking Karen along, she gently reminds Glenn, that he could be due for a long time in the slammer, and pulls a fast one over them, making her get away.
There’s something about a nice hot bath, transforms a person. It’s not just about opening up your pores, know what I mean? There’s just something about the heat and the wet that’s calming you know? Settles me in a way that I really can’t articulate.
Out of Sight, is a movie that cannot exactly be slotted into a genre, there are nods to Tarantino, as in the long winded expositions, the assorted bunch of quirky characters and taking your own time to come to a scene. On the other hand, you have the fascinating romance between Karen and Jack, where it is obvious that one of them is playing the game. Interestingly during their chat in the car trunk, Karen wonders how Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, fell in love so fast in the 3 Days of Condor. And in a delicious twist of irony, she finds herself doing the same with Jack. As in when she dreams of entering his home, catching him in the tub, and then being pulled and kissed passionately. Her attempt at getting away with Glenn, was a fiasco,when he pushes her away, and she ends up in the hospital with an accident. Jack on the other hand cannot get Karen out of his mind, as Buddy puts it “You realize what you are doing, worrying about a person in the law enforcement. You want to sit down and have cocktails with a girl that tried to shoot you”. One really interesting scene, is when Karen’s boyfriend Ray Nicollette( Michael Keaton uncredited) crops up to meet her dad, they are discussing about a woman who slept with a convict on the run, at the same time, Jack rings up Karen on the phone, and again begins his mind games with her. Karen tries to fend him off, stating her Dad( Dennis Farina) was an ex Marshall, and her boyfriend currently works for the Task Force. But Jack plays along with her mind, he knows she has the attraction to him. And so does her Dad, who tells her “You like the wild ones don’t you Tillman, Nicollet, and now Foley”, which has been Karen’s choice of mine, either armed robbers or cops on the edge.
So while Karen and Jack, get into what seems a passionate and torrid love affair, the other characters begin to fill into the scene, in fact, they fit in pretty well with the whole puzzle. So you have Karen’s ex Marshall father, who knows her tastes in men quite well, the father, daughter bonding scenes are quite well shot. It is a pleasant surprise to watch Denis Farina, take a break from his usual mean, nasty roles, and portray an indulgent loving father so well. On the other side is Maurice( Don Cheadle), the boxer in the prison, who had thrown the fight, vicious and mean. We get to see his meanness, earlier in the movie, where he strangles the boxer to whom he had thrown the fight, and tagging him along his henchmen Kenneth( Isaiah Washington) and White Bob( Keith Loneker). The ultimate aim seems to be Ripley’s posh Detroit mansion, where the diamonds are hidden, for Jack, it’s a chance to have one last shot and retire for life. Maurice and his gang, are seeking to rob the same mansion too for the diamonds. Trust Soderbergh, to take grimy, crime ridden Detroit and make it look one of the most romantic places on earth, as in that romantic interlude between Jack and Karen in the hotel. But is she really in love with him or just trying to play along with him, we are really not sure, which is what I felt was the best part of the movie. The back and forth narration, the characters each with their own quirks moving in and out, ensures that you really keep guessing till the end.
Out of Sight is Soderbergh’s first major mainstream venture, and his most accessible movie too. But he still imbues it with his trademarks, the leisurely pacing, the slow, measured dialog, his visual flourishes, the freeze frames and using the color frames to emphasize the mood. In a sense it is a typical American thriller, with a more European touch to it, in the pacing. It is a heist movie with a love story, but one that rambles along leisurely, taking it’s own sweet time, setting up the characters. Like a chess game, Soderbergh moves his characters deftly, on the board, making you guess every moment, right till the end. George Clooney, is a perfect fit for the role of Jack Foley, like a modern day Cary Grant, he has that right mix of a rakish appeal, combined with an inbuilt charm. Jennifer Lopez, shows here what she could have been as an actress, before she allowed herself to be sold down the line by the media, her Karen is achingly vulnerable, feisty, smart and leaves you guessing, this is no damsel in distress. All the supporting characters fill in perfectly, Denis Farina, Ving Rhames and Don Cheadle, contributing to the overall movie.