The Rear-View Mirror: Out of Sight (1998)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

There is nothing that can date a movie like style for style’s sake. It’s one of the hallmarks that betrays a movie’s age, and while some stylistic choices can turn a movie into a classic, other styles might simply not age that well. Think about small things like lens flares. Or think about the dogma certificate. That doesn’t mean that they are bad movies; it’s just that sometimes, movies get stuck in the times they were made. Nostalgia isn’t the worst reason to re-visit a movie you haven’t seen in a long time.

Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight is some kind of special case. There is, first of all, Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name. His writing is so strong that it comes through in most of his adaptations: Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty, Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, the series Justified. (Leonard’s novels have been made into movies as far back as 1957, if you can believe that.) Leonard wrote a novel every year and let other people write the screenplays, but his writing style – his colorful characters with their idiomatic speech patterns who eventually meet and bounce off each other with unexpected consequences – is always translated into the movie.

Out of Sight doesn’t seem to come up quickly if you think about George Clooney’s career. Top spot would probably be the Ocean trilogy, which is ironic because with Out of Sight, Soderbergh and Clooney teamed up for the first time. And yes, style plays a large part. There is that memorable scene where Jack Foley and Karen Sisco are locked in the trunk of a car, and although she is an F.B.I. agent who has to arrest Foley who has just broken out of jail, they secretly find that they might find each other… well, interesting. The Ocean movies are an entertaining game of smoke and mirrors because that is what they are about: deception. Out of Sight wants to get at something because deep down, I think Elmore Leonard is a romantic.

There is a style to Out of Sight that lets the movie look slick and streamlined. That is all on the surface; if you have the patience and the eye to be able underneath that veneer, there is humour and suspense, and Jennifer Lopez never made a better movie. There is that eternally stoned guy Glenn, played by Steve Zahn, but one should also remember Ving Rhames, who plays Foley’s wingman much better than in any of the Mission: Impossible movies. There is that heist that goes horribly wrong. And then there is that Gary and Celeste moment. And outside the window, it’s starting to snow.

The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.

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