Saturday, August 18, 2012

My first repeat Soderbergh


Given how many feature films Steven Soderbergh has made (26), and how many of those I've seen (17), and how many of those I've really liked (10), it's kind of surprising that I've never seen any of his films more than once.

That's the situation I found myself in Friday night, when we decided to wade through the hundreds of offerings in the on-demand offshoots of the four movie channels we still get for free for another two weeks. We found Out of Sight in Cinemax OnDemand, and decided to watch it then and there, despite the fact that it was 9 p.m., we were both tired, and the movie is two hours and three minutes long. (The memory of how gorgeous the last movie we watched on demand -- Terminator 3 -- looked on our new TV surely spurred us on.)

"We" quickly became "me" as my wife fell asleep 30 minutes in, and went to bed after another 30 minutes of sleeping on the couch. I pushed through for the last hour.

After I'd finished, I wondered why I'd waited so long to revisit one of Soderbergh's greater achievements.

I first saw Out of Sight at a critics screening, when I was reviewing films for the regional entertainment section that appeared in each of four town newspapers in the East Bay of Rhode Island. I spent most of my hours working as a reporter for one of these papers, but near the end of my time there -- in the waning months before I left for journalism school -- I summoned a healthy dose of gumption and convinced them to let me write reviews. It wasn't a very tough sell. I set up contacts with the PR companies that handled the release of these movies, and ended up reviewing about a dozen of them before I left for greener pastures.

I tell you this not because I have a larger point, but simply because it makes me realize how long ago and in what a different time that was. I hadn't even gone to New York yet, where I lived for three years before moving out here. Moving out here was 11 years ago now.

And those ensuing 14 years contained nary a second viewing of Out of Sight. Until Friday night.

I've been a bit down on Soderbergh, even though I'm counting Contagion as one of those ten films I "really liked." Even while appreciating that movie, I still felt how cold and clinical his approach was, and the disappointing Haywire did nothing to convince me it was a creative anomaly.

So it was refreshing to see the relative quantity of heart in Out of Sight. That was a younger Steven Soderbergh, one who believed in ... wait for it ... romance. Nothing he's made since then has been remotely romantic, outside of a couple scenes in Ocean's Eleven (which, not coincidentally, also feature George Clooney). Since he had such a knack for it, one wonders why he didn't go back to that particular well more often.

Simply put, the scenes between Clooney and Jennifer Lopez define the word "chemistry." It seems these days we notice chemistry more often when it's absent, when an actor and actress clunk their way through every scene together. But a handful of memorable scenes in Out of Sight are some of the most moody, sultry and downright romantic scenes between a man and a woman in recent memory. (Does 14 years ago still qualify as "recent"?) That's old-fashioned movie star chemistry, and just because it's enhanced by some funky ambient jazz doesn't diminish anything in those performances and that direction.

But Soderbergh got to have his cake and eat it too. There are some awfully fun set pieces in this movie, and a pretty high hip quotient to the overall proceedings. But not yet hip in a way that's bothersome.

I also noticed that merely 14 years ago, we (the societal "we") were not nearly as concerned about racial politics as we are today. The film's two most reprehensible characters are black dudes, as both Don Cheadle and Isaiah Washington are memorably fierce and intimidating. At least Ving Rhames is there as Clooney's partner, his heart of gold balancing things out.

I don't have a way to tie in all these collected ramblings, and I could probably say a lot more about the film if I really wanted to "review" it. But I already did that in a newspaper back in 1998. Maybe I ought to dig it up and see what I wrote.

Well, I've got more work to do if I really want to revisit Soderbergh properly. Flickchart tells me that Out of Sight is only my fifth favorite Soderbergh movie, though last night's viewing makes me wonder if I might have some re-ranking in my future. While Sight ranks a very solid #527 out of the 3369 films I've ranked (I'm about 175 behind), Erin Brockovich (#325), Traffic (#360), Bubble (#401) and Full Frontal (#517) all come in ahead of it.

But none of them have anything like The Trunk Scene.

5 comments:

Nick Prigge said...

Yay! Great piece. Great to hear you re-visited it. My favorite Soderbergh movie and one I've re-visited several times. I actually liked Haywire quite a bit but you're right about the loss of the romantic Soderbergh. It's interesting because in some ways this incessant desire of his to try on so many hats leaves you wishing he'd return to wear a few of his more successful hats more often.

That scene in the hotel bar...oh heavens to betsy, that scene.

Ryan McNeil said...

I smile when I think about someone having gone 14 years without seeing OUT OF SIGHT, since it's a film I watch three or four times a year and could probably recite by now.

I always see it as something of a special achievement because so few movies were able to get from Jennifer Lopez what Soderbergh got in OUT OF SIGHT. Maybe he just found himself in the right place at the right time, since she wouldn't become "J-Lo" for a few more years yet, or maybe he's just good at getting great things from not-so-great actors.

Anyway, glad to know you revisited it, and that you liked it. I too would be curious to read that original review.

Vancetastic said...

Nick,

I do like Soderbergh's chameleon-like nature. There's no better way to show mastery of storytelling through cinema than to work in all genres with high levels of success. One example I love to give is Tom Tykwer, who directed two personal favorites that are utterly different in tone, style and purpose: Run Lola Run and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

I like that Clooney, suave ladies man that he is, gives this nervous, child-like explanation of his theory on how they could take a time out to spend some time together. It's very sweet and truly endears you to the character. It's so easy to be held at arm's length from characters who are too cool to have anything resembling a normal human emotion, but too many filmmakers seem to think that these are the kind of characters we want. Glad Foley retains his humanity, even while being pretty damn cool.

Ryan,

Thanks for checking in!

I remember feeling a palpable sense of loss when I realized that Jennifer Lopez was not content being "just" an actress, and was going to undertake a career as a full-fledged diva. Clearly, this has made her world famous and rich beyond her dreams, a status she would never have achieved without her singing career. But I really liked when she was a credible part of an acting ensemble (like here, and like The Cell), and not someone who was hired basically because she was a world-famous diva. She was also pretty good in the underrated Oliver Stone movie U-Turn.

Monty Burns said...

One of my favorite films, period. Clooney and Lopez are just electric. Plus early Cheadle and vintage Ving. This movie just exudes cool, without trying too hard (oceans movies).

My favorite acting moment in all of Clooney's career: When they are sitting at the table, and Sisco mentions 'if they could take a time-out', and Clooney stutters over himself to agree that, yes, that's what he was thinking. If only they could take a time-out and appreciate each other.

Great movie. WAY THE FUCK BETTER THAN FULL FRONTAL !!!

Vancetastic said...

Monty,

Love how in synch we are on our thoughts about what we like about the movie. Your level of detail in explaining the Clooney-Lopez moment in the bar leads me to think that you probably did not read the earlier comments, in which I stated almost the exact same thing:

"I like that Clooney, suave ladies man that he is, gives this nervous, child-like explanation of his theory on how they could take a time out to spend some time together. It's very sweet and truly endears you to the character. It's so easy to be held at arm's length from characters who are too cool to have anything resembling a normal human emotion, but too many filmmakers seem to think that these are the kind of characters we want. Glad Foley retains his humanity, even while being pretty damn cool."

Interestingly, this also gets at your idea of how this movie is more easily cool than the Oceans movies.

Once I re-watch Full Frontal, I'm sure I'll agree with you.