It was with 1998’s Out of Sight, his seventh feature, that Steven Soderbergh finally made a stylish and sexy follow-up worthy of his debut, sex, lies, and videotape. This was the film critics and fans had expected of him. What Out of Sight demonstrates is Soderbergh’s on-again, off-again relationship with mainstream filmmaking, an ambiguity that has remained a constant part of his oeuvre in the years since its release.

For viewers today, Out of Sight is immediately characterized as a breakout film. It was Soderbergh’s first mainstream, blockbuster-type thriller. It was the film that saw George Clooney transition from wildly-successful TV actor to world-famous movie megastar. Jennifer Lopez, too, shifted from the small screen to the big screen (and on to universal ubiquity) with her performance. In this, Out of Sight represents the point at which the three people most associated with it became truly famous. As a harbinger of pop cultural emergence, it is in the 1990s pantheon along with Boogie Nights, Good Will Hunting, and Pulp Fiction—a bona fide cinematic declaration of who would dominate screens/tabloids/water cooler conversations for the next decade.

Clooney and Lopez, in their roles as co-protagonists Jack Foley and Karen Sisco, earn their subsequent success and adulation. Foley is the ideal suave hustler, charming his way into infamy and, eventually, prison. He has robbed hundreds of banks and brags of never needing a gun to do it. Sisco is also a classic stock character: the workaholic, woman-in-a-man’s-career who is never taken seriously because of her obvious physical beauty and lack of biceps.

Soderbergh, ever the master of manipulating the viewer’s emotional attachments, makes each of them immediately loveable. Foley hilariously opens the film by failing to rob a Florida bank due to his jalopy car not starting after an impeccably cool heist. Sisco’s early moments involve mediating between her skeptical father and her dweeb boyfriend before she returns to work. Never again do we see Foley in a bank or Sisco not on the clock, but their introductions are indelible and endear them to us.

What ensues, through multiple time jumps and several set-piece conversations, is a prison escape, a kidnapping, and the plot moving from sunny Miami to dreary Detroit. Foley goes to Michigan to carry out one last big score and retire from his career of thievery and Sisco goes to follow Foley. Whether her ultimate goal is to seduce him or arrest him is a question Soderbergh poses over and over but never satisfactorily answers, even as the credits roll.

Eventually, Sisco takes Foley both to bed and cuffs him. While the charismatic bank robber dominates the first half of Out of Sight, the film truly belongs to Lopez. Clooney’s Foley is a fait accompli, a fatalist who leans in to his destiny to become a cliché. In the climatic moments, he knows he is making poor decisions for even poorer reasons, yet cannot make himself avoid these mistakes. Sisco, on the other hand, remains an unsolved mystery. Foley is a gregarious man who indulges in talking about himself, while she is cagey and quiet. Even the audience finds her and her intentions challenging to decipher. In the end, she has her cake and eats it too, satisfying both personal and career ambitions.

As a historical document, Out of Sight embodies and, with its two lead characters, personifies the late 1990s. It is not a meta-fictional deconstruction and condemnation of the profligacy and vanity of the period like Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful Magnolia. Instead it heartily and happily embraces those very vices—escapist entertainment, flair over substance, greed, waste and near implausibility – on which much of late ‘90s cinema was built. The film also features bankers actually in prison, Detroit before the fall, and several one-liners that would not work in today’s screen culture. It is a good time, just like the late ‘90s supposedly were. Where Anderson’s Magnolia ends with a literal biblical plague, Out of Sight instead concludes with both protagonists—and the director and the audience—clinging to escapist pleasures. While Anderson castigates the wanton pursuit of selfish desires, Soderbergh instead flaunts the fun of giving in and chasing those very same desires.

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