By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
One of the ironies of Hollywood's Golden Age is that films that didn't carry the imprimatur of quality were often better than those that issued forth from Broadway, literature or history, which is why Swing Time is better than The Sound of Music (Kern and Fields, Astaire and Rogers certainly help as well) and Out of the Past is better than almost anything else. Out of Sight isn't in the same league as that Robert Mitchum classic, but it has a similar low-key modesty.
It's old news that making movies in Hollywood is now often a matter of subsidiary markets rather than craft, never mind art; what is new is how many indie filmmakers have absorbed the studio logic. The difference is, instead of peddling tie-ins at Burger King or a $20 million star on the cover of Vanity Fair, these directors are selling themselves as auteurs, the next Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson. That's why nowadays you usually don't hear much about selling out; everyone who can, does. Out of Sight isn't a jolt of lightning like Boogie Nights, and it's formally less ambitious than the underrated Jackie Brown. Soderbergh isn't trying to blow us away with his film, and that's part of its appeal: It isn't calling out for attention, much less adulation. Like Leonard's, his goals seem more understated, or more sly.
In adapting the novel for the screen, Frank hasn't just appropriated the book, he's improved on it - paring back the exposition, mining the novel for quintessential Leonard-speak, and inventing sinewy, seamless flashbacks. Soderbergh and Frank aren't interested in letting their film go according to genre, at least not in a straight, connect-the-dots continuum. So the past keeps intruding on the present, shedding light though not ever really explaining how Jack went from here to there, and throwing hints as to why the film ends where it does, which is exactly where you want it to end anyway. After a while, it becomes clear what they're up to: Out of Sight isn't just another Leonard adaptation, it's the latest chapter in the ongoing Elmore Leonard movie that began with Pulp Fiction, continued with Get Shorty, and then Jackie Brown. Not that Soderbergh is trying to out-Tarantino Tarantino. Rather, he's riffing like one jazz man talking to another through the notes, pushing the standard as far as it can go before it breaks.
Soderbergh has something of a rep as an intellectual, at least for this town, and it's clear that he's not afraid to think. If there's nothing remarkable about his intelligence, there's nothing ponderous about it either. Even Kafka and last year's Schizopolis, his most obviously ambitious films and both duds, don't come off as pretentious but as earnest failures, the work of a filmmaker pushing himself into something, anything, different. In Out of Sight, Soderbergh plays with color, saturating his images with deep oranges and blues, gives his actors all the room they need, and vamps with the film's tone, its highs, its lows. That's what sets Soderbergh apart from so many of his contemporaries: He's not selling himself (you get the sense that after the spectacular success of sex, lies and videotape, he's turned off that road forever), he's just trying to make movies that mean as much to him as they do to the audience.
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