Ep. 52: Out of Sight

A spark of romance entwines the stories of a career bank robber and a US Marshal in this beautifully-constructed story.

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Story Analysis & Ratings:

Alastair says: 5 Pops ~ This smart, slick, sexy film attempts to combine an unlikely romance with a fractured structure, and somehow pulls it off. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a must-see for any fan of intelligent storytelling.
Alastair’s rating breakdown: Craft: 5, Romance: 5, Comedy: 4, Suspense: 4

Lucy says: 5 Pops ~ I really enjoyed this movie while watching it, but loved it even more once I’d had some time to sit back and appreciate how tightly it was told. Some minor squibbles, but the romance sang, the cast was amazing and the structure was beautiful, so I have nothing to complain about.
Lucy’s rating breakdown: Craft: 5, Romance: 5, Comedy: 4, Suspense: 4

Read the chat transcript here!

Movie Info:

Story: A bank robber escapes from prison and tangles with a beautiful US Marshall. Release Date: June 26, 1998 Writer: Scott Frank from an Elmore Leonard novel

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16 responses to “Ep. 52: Out of Sight”

  1. I attended a interview/panel for Scott Frank right after this film had been released, and was seriously impressed with the amount of time/drafts he put into this script before he even showed it to Stacey Sher (one of the producers). He did something like 50 drafts–prior to handing it in. Then rewrites based on Stacey’s notes, then rewrites based on the studio’s notes, and polishes based on Soderberg’s notes, and incorporating Clooney’s comments/notes. And all throughout the panel, he kept commenting about how brilliant the book had been, how he’d talked to Elmore Leonard multiple times about the adaptation. Great writer, great guy-highly respected in L.A. (from everything I’d heard), which is rare.

    This is one of my favorite films.

    Clooney commented once that he didn’t understand why Soderberg was filming some of the scenes the way he was–particularly the love scene–how it was broken up and disjointed didn’t make sense and was different than how it read. Then when he saw the final effect, he loved it.

  2. I didn’t have high hopes for this, so I was pleasantly surprised when I loved it. Never been a huge fan of Clooney or Lopez, but this was definitely them at their best. I agree that this was as happy as their ending was ever going to be, and I really loved how they did it, but now I feel a vague urge to watch the Brosnan Thomas Crown Affair yet again so I can see a really happy ending.

  3. I remember Clooney saying he though Soderberg was a genius for the way he’d cut the love scene. I agree. I love everything about this movie.

  4. Damn, wish I’d been there with you all. Love this movie, and remember being pleasantly surprised by how well j-lo did. So tight. Great acting. The blue tintto all the scenes in Detroit. And the soundtrack. Sigh. Looking forward to the podcast– thank you Lani and Alistair.

  5. Did everyone read the ending the same way Lucy and Alastair did? Because I think it’s also possible that Karen tries to make Jack see what he’s life is going to be like: an endless circle of prison breaks and being captured again. But he has a choice. This is the way I read it when I first saw the movie years ago. This time around I thought it was much more ambiguous, but I could still see my original interpretation. Did I get it all wrong? Am I missing something in the translation?

  6. I thought it was pretty clear that she’d given him Hejira as a present: this guy was going to escape and take Jack with him.

  7. Okay, I’ve listened to the podcast, and I think Alastair and Lucy saw a different movie than I did. For me, this is not a fractured plot, it’s a patterned plot, which means that a lot of the stuff that they’re talking about doesn’t make sense to me. The cuts they want, I think, destroy the pattern. But they think it’s a romance (I think) and I don’t think it is. I think it’s Jack vs. Karen, a kind of crucible that distills who they are, with the romance as a huge complication.

    I need to watch this again and really look at the structure, but I’m 99% positive it’s a patterned plot, not fragmented.

    Oh, and I’m absolutely with Lucy in not wanting to know why Jack is a trickster. He’s a trickster because he’s a trickster. And the Keaton cameo is absolutely relevant if you read this movie as a patterned story about doppelganger tricksters.

    (Why they thought I’d wait for the next podcast to disagree is beyond me.)

    Edited to add:
    I did an Argh Ink post on patterned structure after I wrote this.

  8. I think we’re closer on this movie than it may seem, Jenny. When Lucy and I talked about the plot being fractured, it was absolutely for want of a better term; I might still argue that “fractured” suggests an internal tension and unpredictability which “patterned” does not, and which this movie has in abundance. For me, patterned storytelling is rhythmic; this is more chaotic.

    Patterned or not, this film is Jack’s story. Snoopy and Glen’s misadventures in Detroit add nothing to our greater understanding of our protagonist — or our antagonist, come to that — and distract us from what is important. We already know that Snoopy is an affable monster; we already know Glen is horribly weak. In the podcast, we made a point about the scene in the boxing club being all the more tense if we hadn’t just watched Snoopy for ten minutes, and I stand by it; if those events inform the greater thematic structure of the film, then tell them intelligently. Glen’s haunted eyes, no longer hidden behind his shades; Jack’s question about the blood on his shirt; Snoopy’s looming presence in the back of the frame. I genuinely think it would be stronger, and you don’t need to make a single edit besides the cut. Regardless, it’s the only time that the film loses focus, and the only time that I looked at the clock.

    We agree on Jack’s origin; I intended to talk a little on the podcast about the ways in which the narrative disconnects Jack from his earlier life, thus making him almost archetypal. We never see his first incarceration, or what he was like before it; we never have any hint that he’s ever done anything except robbing banks — which is, of course, less about robbing banks than it is about living according to his own rules. The same is true, of course, for Karen.

    I can see the argument that Jack and Karen’s relationship is primarily antagonistic, complicated by a mutual attraction; for me, their relationship is primarily romantic, complicated by a mutual antagonism. The film very deliberately plays with that duality, and I’m not certain that there is a definitive interpretation. I’m happy to live and let live on that one.

    Finally… I’m not sure I see your point about Keaton. What does his presence in the film add that we don’t get from the earlier scene in which Karen and her father discuss him? I don’t care strongly enough about the cameo to argue that it should be cut, but it seems superfluous, and more about connecting the movie to the greater continuity of Elmore Leonard’s work than about adding anything to this film.

    In general, though, I think we’re 95% in agreement. It’s a fantastic film, and one that I find myself enjoying more as we analyse it.

  9. You’re still analyzing it as a linear plot. It’s Jack’s movie in the sense that he’s the main thread in the pattern, but not in the linear protagonist sense where everything in the movie belongs to him. Yes, one scene establishes that Snoop is a sociopath. But the pattern of scenes builds not only the pattern of disconnection, but the parallels to the others in the plot.

    So let’s look at the scene with Ray (the Keaton character). Karen is with her dad and Ray comes by. Ray should be everything her father approves of, he’s successful in law enforcement, Daddy all over again. But Dad doesn’t like Ray, which throws Karen. Then the phone rings and it’s Jack and Karen goes outside to talk to the outside-the-law trickster. Meanwhile, back inside with the law, Dad’s reading a newspaper article to Ray who’s relaxed, sure of who he is and what he’s doing, safe in his version of reality: Karen’s dad is talking about a case to him, about a dumb criminal. Until it dawns on him that Dad’s just inverted reality and made him the criminal for cheating on his wife. Dad’s a trickster (and there’s plenty more evidence of that in the movie). Meanwhile, out by the pool, Karen’s talking to the guy Ray’s chasing, a chip off the old trickster block. Then Karen comes in and Ray leaves, and I think (not sure about this) that Dad shows Karen Jack’s picture in the paper and says something like, “Does he look familiar to you?” and Karen has the same poleaxed look that Ray did: Jack looks a lot like Dad. Dad’s rejected Ray and connected to Jack. He does it in other scenes, too, but my favorite one in this pattern is the bit at the end when he’s asking her what she’s going to do and says something like, “You can go after him again and catch him again and throw him back in that hellhole.” That’s pretty blatantly sympathetic to Jack.

    The place we probably differ the most is the end. You think the climax is when Karen shoots him. But patterned plots don’t have traditional climaxes like that, in general, a patterned plot becomes clear in the last scene, not with a big finish, but by putting in the last piece of the pattern. You said, I think, that you wanted Karen to finish Jack, kill him in the last scene because by saving him, she’s doomed them to repeat the same pattern. I think. But the whole point is the pattern, the dance. It starts in the trunk of the car, it continues with the hotel scenes, and then it comes full circle, with him in the trunk of her car, her prisoner this time instead of the other way around. And she is very clearly inviting him to dance: she hands him his lighter and then she hands him Hejira, the best escape artist the prison system knows, to make a two day drive in a prison truck with one other, bored guard. There’s no way Jack and Hejira are going to end up in prison, Karen’s made sure of that. And Jack knows it, that’s the light in his eyes at the end. I think you saw the pattern they were in as nothing but misery and dead ends. They see it as their dance, and it’s going to go on forever because that’s what they want. It’s not a traditional love story, but it’s one that well-established by the patterned plot.

    Boy, typing in these little boxes is annoying.

  10. Oh, and the stuff in Detroit. You didn’t see a pattern in Snoop forcing Glenn to kill for the first time; then Kenneth (because of Snoop) forcing Jack to kill for the first time, then Snoop forcing Karen to kill for the first time? The rhythm in the loss of innocence and the intensification of the blurring of the line between Jack and Karen?

    I think as long as you see this as Jack’s story in the traditional linear sense, then the stuff in Detroit is extraneous, the scene with Ray can be cut, and the climax is when Karen shoots Jack. But if it’s a patterned plot with Jack and Karen as the main thread, then you have to look at the relationships between the scenes to see the structure, not the cause and effect.

  11. I liked this movie. More than I thought I would but, like with Pulp Fiction [the only other patterned plot movie I’ve seen] I think I need to watch it at least once more to make sure I’ve caught everything I’m supposed to. My brain is wired for linear and as much as I’d like to get everything, and appreciate it, I don’t think I got it all this time through.

    I did like how the structure influenced my perception of the plot – for good or bad – and had me rethinking what was going on even as the movie was playing. It kept me on my toes. It shows real skill in what they were able to accomplish that I wasn’t more confused. I don’t mind waiting around for clarity as long as they deliver. And this did.

    I saw this as a Caper/ Suspense movie with Romance. A Very Good Romance but I saw that as secondary. I think if it had been primary then Karen would have found a way to not send Jack back to prison at all. She’d have worked the legal system to his benefit and they’d walk off into the sunset. But that’s not this story and Jack’s not going to walk off into the sunset – not even for Karen. He’s going to keep robbing banks. He said so.

    While I appreciate the plot structure, I think I know enough about myself to know that I probably won’t attempt anything like this. What I can try to figure out is what it is about these characters I’m drawn to because I really do like them. And yet, I don’t get a sense that they are all that different at the end than they are before they meet each other. I’ll admit, there’s a better than average chance I’m not seeing it because my brain is wired for linear.

  12. I disagree about Ray. If you cut him from that scene, you don’t lose anything important. It’s a nod to the Elmore Leonard fans in the audience — there’s nothing wrong with that, and it doesn’t hurt the scene in any meaningful way, but it’s not necessary. You are right about the symbolism of Karen taking the phone outside, though — I didn’t see that, but it’s rather beautiful.

    As for the scenes in Detroit, I see no connection between Glen’s descent into violence and Jack killing Kenneth at the end of the film. Snoopy destroys Glen’s hapless innocence — which is somewhat undercut by his escape at the end of the film — while Jack wields violence as a means of protecting first the maid, and then himself. I also don’t see the connection between Jack killing Kenneth and Karen killing Snoopy; there’s nothing in her story or demeanor which suggests that she hasn’t killed before, or that it carries any real emotional weight for her. In fact, given that she’s a bad-ass US Marshal and her father gives her a gun at the start of the film, I’m going to guess that she’s well-acquainted with violence. I see your argument, and I’ll watch it again, but I don’t see any parallels, either explicit or implicit, being drawn between the two scenes.

    I understand your point about Karen and Jack continuing the pattern after the film ends, and I recognise the dramatic power of that decision; for me, it was just too bleak. Is the film really saying that the decisions we make don’t matter? That some things can’t be changed? That these characters, for all that they have gone through, remain unaltered?

    For me, the patterned story exists to add emotional and thematic depth to the central narrative, which is Jack and Karen’s romance. If it’s your assertion that Jack and Karen are simply one thread in a broader tapestry, then I have to wonder what the story is.

  13. I remember seeing this in the theatre when it first came out and loving it. The two people I went with hated it – they went ’cause Clooney was cute and didn’t pay attention to the fact of what the story was.

    My BFF in particular was very unhappy because the romance didn’t have a happy ending. She had completely missed why Karen had put Jack in a truck with a known successful jail breaker.

    Her dad even suggests it in encouraging her to have another “interlude” in the road trip back to jail.

  14. Hadn’t seen this movie in ages, and I only saw it once before, but the one thing that always stood out was, as Jenny calls it, the gleam in Clooney’s eye. I got the impression Karen wanted him to escape and he realized it–therefore the gleam. So, I accepted the ending as their form of HEA and never questioned it.

    As for the rest of the discussion regarding the Intristic differences between patterned or fractured plot structure… I gracefully bow out, because I’m still trying to understand beats.

  15. Bringing some Out of Sight/ pattern conversation over here rather than posting on Argh since it is OoS specific.

    The only issue I had with the pattern was that it was capricious which sometimes had me feeling like I was waiting for the pattern to change. I think that might be the linear thinker in me just waiting for the shoe to drop but it is an expectation of the viewer that if you introduce something that you’ll use it and use it regularly.