The brief and unlikely encounter between Jack (George Clooney) and Karen (Jennifer
Lopez) happens about 20 minutes into Out of Sight; it changes both their lives and
launches a strange and engaging romance. Jammed together in an almost classic
‘spooning’ position in the trunk of the getaway car, they begin to talk, in a
surprisingly casual way, about things, about movies - like people do. As Jack describes it
later, "it’s like seeing a person you never saw before. You look at each other,
you make eye contact and for a few seconds there’s a recognition."
"His good guys are bad guys" writer
"What makes these characters so poignant," says writer Scott Frank, here
doing his second major Elmore Leonard adaptation (his first was the 1995 box-office hit,
Get Shorty), "is that you know Jack doesn’t ever want to go back to prison. But,
at the exact moment he’s going to start all over, he meets this woman. He becomes
obsessed with wondering what might have happened had he not been a bank robber. And, in
spite of herself, Karen finds she is attracted to Jack. The story becomes about the road
An intriguing and constantly surprising combination of action movie, heist picture and
romantic comedy, Out of Sight is a film about the kind of characters only Elmore Leonard
could write. "His good guys are bad guys," says Frank. "They’re loan
sharks or criminals or bank robbers, but they’re all very funny. The one common
denominator is that they don’t know they’re being funny." Like Get
Shorty’s Chilly Palmer, they take themselves very seriously.
But, in their quieter moments, both Jack and Karen are capable of seeing their
shortcomings. Jack may have knocked over a lot of banks, but he’s also been caught a
lot of times. "The character I play," says Clooney, "is like the characters
in some of those older films, where they’re good at what they do, yet they’re
also stuck with bad luck along the way."
"One of the things that made my role interesting is
that Jack is such a romantic" actor George Clooney
Adds director Steven Soderbergh: "Part of American folk-lore is the sympathetic
bank robber - people like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Bonnie & Clyde or Billy
the Kid. George is perfect for the role because he’s charming and laid-back, but you
know beneath the surface he can pull off the action."
As for Karen, she keeps falling for unsuitable men. The irony here is that Jack turns
out to be the most suitable one she’s ever succumbed to. "It’s like
they’re the only two people in the world and they discover something in each
other," says Lopez, whose sexy-but-tough performance is a perfect foil for
The romance was the thing that made Clooney commit to the movie when it was still at
the project stage. "One of the things that made my role interesting is that Jack is
such a romantic," he notes. "He’s risking his life, risking jail, risking
death because he’s in love with a woman he has met only once. I don’t think you
can get much more romantic than that."
What really gives Out of Sight its edge, however, is the fact that the romantic
attachment between Jack and Karen is so slowly and subtly established that it becomes just
one of the many threads that drives the film forward. Like them, we only slowly realise
what is happening.
"I don’t begin with a plot: I begin with
characters" writer Elmore Leonard
What happens to start with is a bank heist, carried out by Jack with a mixture of
chutzpah (he does it all without guns or gangs of associates, more or less on the spur of
the moment, using nothing more aggressive than his charm) and incompetence (he makes his
getaway with a bag full of money, only to find that his elderly Toyota won’t start).
From there on, it’s back to jail, on to the break-out and, via a multi-layered series
of flashbacks, into Leonard’s tale of obsession, revenge and grand larceny, with the
location shifting from the sticky heat of Florida to a snow-blanketed Detroit.
Along the way, there are a lot of bad guys, a few good guys (Dennis Farina, who played
the ruthless Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni in Get Shorty, but is the straightest arrow of
all this time around, plays Karen’s father, Marshall), plus a very funny uncredited
cameo by Michael Keaton reprising his Jackie Brown role as a dim-witted FBI agent who
thinks he’s the sharpest thing since pins were invented.
"The most important thing I do in developing a plot is to develop my
characters," says Leonard. "I don’t begin with a plot: I begin with
characters. I get to know them - what they have for breakfast, what kind of shoes they
wear - and they tell me what the story is about. The plot just comes along."
"This is a performance-reliant movie," director
Which is not to say the plot doesn’t matter: the intricacies of Out of Sight are
always convincing. Jack’s opening heist, for instance, for all that it ends in farce
when his car won’t start, is a masterpiece of lateral thinking. "It’s
amazing what people will give you," he later explains to Ripley, "if you just
ask them right."
"This is a performance-reliant movie," says director Soderbergh, "and I
thought it needed a certain visual style to keep it lively. I didn’t want it to be
too slick or too polished. I wanted to keep it contained and I wanted a rougher feel to
it. This is not a ‘crane shot’ movie: it’s a
"And personally," he adds, "if I saw that George Clooney, Jennifer
Lopez, Ving Rhames, Albert Brooks, Don Cheadle and Steve Zahn were in a film together, I
would be fascinated, because they are all such distinct actors."
"Elmore only gave me one piece of advice - just have
fun" writer Scott Frank
As for Leonard himself, his whole approach to bringing Out of Sight to the screen was
every bit as laid-back as Jack’s approach to life. "Frankly," he says,
"Scott is much better at adapting my books to the screen than I am."
"Elmore only gave me one piece of advice," adds Scott Frank. "‘Just
have fun,’ he told me. ‘Just have fun.’"