Published July 1, 1998
Out of Sight by Steven Soderbergh is a film reminiscent of so many of the brilliant products of the Coen brothers in that it is an excellent bit of movie-making with absolutely nothing to say. It plays around with time sequence like Pulp Fiction (only not so boldly) and fantasy and provides us with a real post-modern couple, a federal marshal (Jennifer Lopez) and an escaped bank robber (George Cloony) who fall in love talking about the movies while confined together as hostage and hostage-taker in the trunk of a car. The situation is no more improbable than Mr Clooney’s handsome, debonaire, glamorous convict, who is patched together out of 1930s vintage movies (when was the last time you heard about a real prison-break?) and a sentimentalized idea of criminality left over from the hippie era. Compared to the grim and sordid reality of criminals and prisoners today, such stuff seems somewhat less plausible than alien invasion.
Even more seriously, there is no overall theme or any sense of moral coherence to any of it. Hence the film’s emphasis on the striking of chic, hip attitudes and witty dialogue. Here are beautiful people doing cool things, and what more, the once-serious young auteur Mr Soderbergh seems to ask, do you need? There is a momentary flirtation with reality when Jack, the gentleman bandit, asks “You know anyone who had one last big score and then went on to live the good life?”. But the film fudges the realism by hinting (without showing) that he himself does. In the end Miss Lopez does her duty in re-capturing the escaped robber, but she puts him together with an alleged escape artist (Samuel L. Jackson in a cameo), presumably in the hope that he will soon be able to join her and his still-at-large accomplice (Ving Rhames) who is keeping $5 million in diamonds-in-the-rough for him on the outside.
Of course, the point is that he is himself the real diamond-in-the-rough. Neither his stealing the rocks from the fish-tank of a rich ex-con played by Albert Brooks nor his subsequent hopeful prison-break looks so bad when you consider that he was only captured because he insisted on preventing a rape. Having thus established his feminist credentials, he must make a strong appeal to the female fantasy of taming the male brute in his most unregenerate form. Clearly there is something here to titillate the kinds of women who marry death-row inmates and also, perhaps, those who marry lesser varieties of thug. But even if Jennifer Lopez were not a federal marshal, she just wouldn’t look the type.