Ostensibly a crime movie, Out of Sight is a film that’s obsessed with dialog, behavior, and movie star charisma and sensuality than it is with any particular criminal activity. This isn’t a complaint at all, merely an observation of the structure and emphasis in Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation. In fact, Out of Sight is an absolute delight from start to finish.
We begin with the most lackadaisical bank robbery I’ve ever seen in a film, one that relies entirely on George Clooney’s character’s ability to disarm with his charm and deliver a lie-a-minute with the efficiency and believability of a lifelong con artist. He accomplishes both of these tasks with the ease and charisma befitting a movie star. But Clooney wasn’t a movie star at the time this film was made and released. Primarily known for his work on television, ER making him a star after years of journeyman work to be precise, Out of Sight launched Clooney as a viable commodity on the big screen.
Clooney folds into the world of Elmore Leonard, having a bit of a big screen moment in the 90s, with surprising grace and intelligence. This role would provide something of a roadmap for Clooney’s eventual ascendency: charming rogues with a penchant for smartass remarks and soft hearts. It’s all right there in that opening scene as Clooney’s clear joy in playing with strong, musical language is evident and only reinforces his strengths as an actor.
Yet Out of Sight is also a film built around the premise of a cop and robber chasing each other, and Clooney needed a strong cop to act opposite. Enter Jennifer Lopez in the strongest performance of her career as Karen Sisco. She must walk a fine line between wanting to bag the guy and wanting to bed him. Her character on paper is nearly ridiculous a pistol-packing bombshell that’s gritty, yet Lopez manages to make it look effortless. She’s never been this at ease or layered as an actress ever since. In addition, she must also trade witty and sexy repartee with Clooney, and their chemistry is off the charts. Scenes of them together are a joy to watch simply to observe their verbal and sexual dynamics threatening to ignite the celluloid.
And that’s the film in its entirety, layers of tension as the cat and mouse games switch power dynamics then switch back. Yes, there’s several heist scenes and shootouts in Out of Sight, but what you’ll remember most are long scenes of characters talking because the words and how they’re said are so enjoyable. There’s also a pair of sexy scenes between Clooney and Lopez, one where they’re completely clothed in the trunk of a car and another where we cut back-and-forth between them in a restaurant and undressing in a hotel room.
Orbiting around these two are a colorful cadre of supporting players brought to life by an enviably cast of (then) up-and-comers and aging character actors. Leonard had the same gift that Damon Runyon did for populating his works with colorful characters and giving them all a chance to shine. The journey is good enough when actors such as Dennis Farina, Ving Rhames, Catherine Keener, Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn, Viola Davis, and Albert Brooks bring it to life.
Out of Sight may not be aiming for any grand pronouncement, but it’s a gangbuster of an entertainment. It’s smart, sexy, and loads of fun. You know, it really lives up to its title.