Every now and then, the stars really do align. Most of history’s greatest movies have been great in spite of the circumstances in which they were made and the issues they faced behind the scenes. Others have been born out of nothing but chaos and sheer luck. However, occasionally a movie comes along that is the product of a perfectly timed meeting of minds — a film that works because it’d almost be impossible for it not to. 1998’s Out of Sight is one of those movies.
The film, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this week, was made by some of the best craftsmen of their generation during a period when all of them were operating at the top of their game. It’s a movie that pairs Steven Soderbergh, one of Hollywood’s most capable directors, with Scott Frank, a screenwriter of equal esteem. In front of the camera, it pits together George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, two of the most attractive stars of the past 30 years, in a cheeky love story that gives both the chance to channel their on-screen charisma more intensely than they have in any other movie.
To top it all off, the film borrows its story and characters from a novel penned by none other than Elmore Leonard, a writer whose wit and knowledge of the crime genre have yet to be matched. Taking that into account, it’s hard to imagine a reality in which Out of Sight fell short of its own potential. Fortunately for all of us, it didn’t. As a matter of fact, 25 years after its release, the film is not only just as entertaining and thrilling as it was in 1998, but it’s also a stark reminder of certain age-old truths that Hollywood at large seems to have forgotten in recent years.
Yes, it’s a crime thriller, but it’s also an underrated romantic comedy
At the center of Out of Sight are Jack Foley (Clooney), a lifelong bank robber, and Karen Sisco (Lopez), a law-abiding U.S. Marshal. Early in the film, which adopts a non-linear format that — unlike many other late ‘90s crime movies — doesn’t feel like a poor Quentin Tarantino rip-off, Jack and Karen end up trapped in a cramped car trunk that forces them to become a little better acquainted. Their meeting sets the two on a dangerous path that pits their mutual attraction against their conflicting ways of life. What follows is a knotty, low-level crime plot involving more clever twists, kooky supporting characters, and intensely romantic moments than any first-time viewer will ever see coming.
The film is, in many ways, just as indebted to the high-concept genre romances of the 1950s and ‘60s as it is to the wry, stylistic American crime thrillers of the ‘90s. While most directors wouldn’t be able to pull such a tonal and visual combination off, either, Soderbergh does so with flying colors. The filmmaker, who went on to work with Clooney numerous times (most famously on the Ocean’s Eleven films), leans just as much into the down-and-dirty brutality of the underground crime world that Jack traffics in as he does his and Karen’s unlikely romance, which gradually blooms and deepens over the course of Out of Sight’s 123-minute runtime.
From the cherry red light that covers Clooney and Lopez throughout their car trunk conversation to the steam that fills Jack’s hotel bathroom in a sultry haze during another of his and Karen’s unplanned meetings, Soderbergh visually emphasizes Out of Sight’s central romance every chance he can get. These choices work in tandem with Clooney and Lopez’s sweltering chemistry to create a crime drama that is as romantic and seductive as it is violent and gritty. The film’s second act, notably, culminates with a snowy hotel rendezvous between Clooney and Lopez that is itself one of the most sensual and formally inventive sex scenes in the history of American cinema.
Out of Sight is one of the sexiest movies of all time
All in all, Out of Sight is the kind of mainstream cinematic cocktail that feels increasingly rare nowadays. During a time when it feels like most blockbusters are sanitized to the point of sterility, Out of Sight is a lesson in what can happen when a Hollywood film isn’t afraid to be sexy and romantic. Those are two qualities that seem harder and harder to find in modern movies, and not just because most directors and studios seem totally uninterested in exploring those aspects of life on-screen.
Romance and sensuality are difficult things to successfully portray without the charisma and talent of movie stars like George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. In Out of Sight, the two are as likable and sensuous as they’ve ever been. That’s due not only to their own efforts but also the work done by Soderbergh, who goes out of his way to cast his actors in the best possible light. Equipped with a director as attentive as him and the wit of a writer like Elmore Leonard, Clooney and Lopez don’t just shine in Out of Sight, they outright thrive.
Unfortunately, Hollywood has put very little effort into molding and lifting up new movie stars over the past 20 years. Instead, the industry’s leading studios have done their best to turn the various fictional characters and comic book superheroes they own into their hottest commodities. There is, consequently, a major shortage of movie stars in Hollywood right now, a fact that has only made established names like Clooney and Lopez seem even more like rare resources. Obviously, that’s troubling for a number of reasons, one of which is that movies like Out of Sight can’t exist or work without stars who radiate charisma and confidence the way that its two leads do.
Hollywood doesn’t make movies like Out of Sight anymore
As plenty of moviegoers and critics have already opined in recent years, there are certain movies that Hollywood doesn’t really make anymore. Films like Everything Everywhere All At Once, Top Gun: Maverick, and even this summer’s No Hard Feelings have, in their own ways, felt like legitimate attempts to bring a level of diversity back to the annual Hollywood release calendar. Whether or not those films and the others like them actually succeed in doing so remains to be seen.
Either way, 25 years after its release, Out of Sight is proof of what can be achieved and gained when that kind of tonal and stylistic diversity exists. Right now, the film feels like an artifact of a bygone era, one that has only grown in many critics and viewers’ estimations over the past two and a half decades, and for good reason. To put it simply: There aren’t many American genre films that are as formally stimulating or downright entertaining as Out of Sight. It’s a jolt to the system that has a little something for almost everyone.
Out of Sight is currently streaming on Peacock.