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Saturday, 18 August 2012

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.


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