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Holy Hell! Out of Sight Turns 20

Holy Hell! Out of Sight Turns 20

While its sexual energy sizzles, the love story at the heart of Soderbergh’s film may burn you alive.

The space between two people is a fascinating thing to behold. At times, the air that separates a pair of bodies is filled with disdain, or anxiousness, or indifference—but in Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, the space between is one filled with overwhelming attraction. It all begins when Jack Foley (George Clooney), a seasoned bank robber, escapes from prison and ends up sharing a trunk with kidnapped U.S Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez).

Bathed in the trunk’s red light, you’d think this precarious situation would play out differently, but within an instant Foley and Sisco are already cracking wise, having an open dialogue and waxing on a shared interest for movies like Bonnie & Clyde, Network and Three Days of the Condor. There’s a gap between these bodies, but it’s filled with such palpable sexual tension that the chemistry nearly sizzles off the screen. She’s the law, he’s a criminal—it shouldn’t be this way.

But it is.

Such is the case throughout Soderbergh’s film, a work that is simultaneously a chic crime thriller, compelling noir, uproarious character comedy and one of the sexiest movies ever made. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Out of Sight remains one of the pinnacle works in the “stylish crime” subgenre, right up there with works like Tarantino’s first three films (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, the latter of which, like Out of Sight, is also based on an Elmore Leonard novel). It also served as a stepping stone for much of Soderbergh’s career, as the writer/director continued to bring us snappy, character-driven crime films like the Ocean’s trilogy and last year’s Logan Lucky.

But nothing has quite matched the sensual allure crafted by Out of Sight, a feat that is achieved through Soderbergh’s careful eye, Elliot Davis’ sultry cinematography and, of course, the sweltering chemistry of its two leads. Clooney and Lopez are essentially two magnets begging to unite. Whether they’re in a trunk or across a table at a hotel bar, their words are cool and calm while their bodies are rippling with erotic energy. When these bodies finally combine in a hotel room scene that is so hot you might be inclined to crank up the air conditioning in your home, it’s like staring at the sun in the sky. It feels both natural and blinding. Like the characters’ own carnal pleasures, Soderbergh’s direction, Davis’ cinematography, David Holmes’ score, Philip Messina’s art direction and Anne V. Coates’ editing all combine to craft something truly unique and memorable. It’s more than just sex; it’s cinema.

But then comes the love, and that’s where Out of Sight truly sneaks up on the viewer. A stand-off between Sisco and Foley during the film’s climactic heist crumbles their attractions to one another with one simple fact—she’s on the good side of the law, and he’s the bad guy. When their bodies were intertwined in a softly-lit hotel room, this dichotomy didn’t matter. It was nonexistent, as they were one. Nor did it matter in the scene prior, where Foley revealed perhaps his most honest truth in the whole film and Sisco listened. Because that’s what lovers do:

It’s like seeing someone for the first time, like you can be passing on the street, and you look at each other for a few seconds, and there’s this kind of a recognition like you both know something. Next moment the person’s gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it. And you always remember it because it was there, and you let it go, and you think to yourself, ‘What if I had stopped? What if I had said something?’ What if, what if… it may only happen a few times in your life.

Or once, Karen replies.

Or once, Foley softly repeats.

Out of Sight, above all its entertaining beats of heists and humor, is about this one moment. While its sexual energy sizzles, the love story at the heart of Soderbergh’s film may burn you alive.

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