7 Frame Grabs From “Out of Sight” (Midnight Tonight & Tomorrw at IFC Center)

by on May 20, 2011Posted in: Essay


OUT OF SIGHT is a terrific seduction, smooth and attentive, perfectly calibrated in its touch, glance, and delivery.


Maybe, like late-90’s George Clooney, a bit too seductive, verging on glib. But even if it is rather too pleased with its own performance and leaves you with little more than a musky imprint on the morning’s sheets, you won’t feel disrespected. There was more than enough pleasure to go around, and for all its in-the-hips swagger, it was unfailingly polite, discrete, almost genteel.


The mov(i)e is a con job pulled off by charm and force of personality.

Out of Sight 1998
That’s 1.


Foreplay. A funk groove on the soundtrack. The camera opens, blurry, on downtown Miami, pulling into focus with a floating leftward pan that smoothly zooms into a corporate plaza.
Enter Jack Foley (Clooney), bank robber extraordinaire, ripping off his tie, flinging it to the ground, exasperated. We’ll never see him this agitated again, and now only for a flash, like the pop of red silk lining in his grey windowpane suit.
What Foley does next is what Out of Sight does scene by scene: snap to attention, size things up, survey the field, measure the angles, play the move.

Arresting a flow of action into freeze frame, coasting for a few seconds on slyly sardonic commentary, then rolling on: a recurrent trope of the hipster thriller since Goodfellas.
Soderbergh deploys it across Out of Sight-–with a difference. The duration of the frame is quick, maybe a second, and it doesn’t serve to verbally comment on the action but tends to highlight a gesture, frame a subtle inflection of feeling, register a reflective blip in the consciousness of a character, snatch a moment out of time.



Cross-purposes, double-agenda, simultaneity. There are, more often than not, two things happening at any given moment of Out of Sight, and often three or more.


The chemistry, however, is real. The cloistered, richly chromatic mojo of the Clooney-Lopez car-trunk meet-cute wouldn’t be matched until this.

Soderbergh has never directed a better scene than the busting of Chino (Luis Guzmán), a comedic tour-de-force that piles up a delirious, crosscut multiplicity of psychologies, subplots, reversals, postures, rhetorical styles, and tossed off felicities.
Catherine Keener’s whipsmart scene stealing, played off Guzmán’s ethnic burlesque and Lopez’s authentic focus, is characteristic of the film’s meticulous nonchalance and sumptuous character acting.
Funny how its punchline involves the demystification of a magic trick.

Out of Sight is rich with fools, meatheads, goofballs, stoners.
Excepting the tangy sadist played by Don Cheadle, however, it’s wonderfully invested in kindness. The movie’s generosity is keyed to its affection for the characters. Steve Zahn as the bumbling con, shaken by an act of violence at odds with his nature, alters the stakes of the narrative, introducing a note of moral gravity. That it isn’t fussed over doesn’t render it any less genuine.
Its integrity, on the contrary, depends on sustaining the lightness of touch that carries everything else off.
Nathan Lee is, for our purposes, a Contributing Editor to Alt Screen.

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