During some nocturnal hour back in 1999, a spot-ridden 13-year-old is creeping through a dark house. Crouching, eyes-wide and pyjama-clad, he freezes in the grey halo of an almost silent TV and the sound of footsteps upstairs. He plans his exit strategy. The cat eyes him wearily before curling back to sleep. The cat has seen it before.
This fine young man who, I am proud to say, was once the fine reporter before you, had recently discovered, in the Stygian outer reaches of Rupert Murdoch’s Sky network, the ten-minute preview of Television X – porn before the internet.
Rising to a crescendo of pouting girls covering themselves in baby oil, Television X’s ten-minute preview would then abruptly veil itself behind a paywall, leaving me to dutifully channel surf for more boobs. I’ve spent a lot of time being disappointed by Channel 5, more than I would like to admit; but on occasion, the channel would serve something that stilled my beating heart.
Out of Sight, adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel by Steven Soderbergh, and starring George Clooney fresh from Batman & Robin and Jennifer Lopez before she became Jenny From the Block, did that for me. It starts with Clooney robbing a bank with a Zippo and a loaded smile. Then a prison-break; J-Lo’s US Marshal, replete with a smoky Bronx accent, a shotgun and a standard issue skin-tight leather trench coat, is abducted. As Ving Rhames speeds them both away, Clooney and Lopez talk old movies in the boot of her car. She finds herself flirting with this grease-covered con, laughing despite herself as he does a bad impression of Bonnie and Clyde. “If we met under different circumstances…” he suggests. The connection is made. Then an escape, a car crash and, in a concussed daze, a dream.
J-Lo, gun drawn, is padding through an apartment. There’s the swoosh of running taps, steam rises from the bathroom. She moves silently in, sights leveled, to find Clooney with his hair slicked, eyes closed, leaving his prison dirt in the tub. She doesn’t arrest him. She pauses, she stares, she lets him disarm her with a flick of his wrist and then, at his almost wordless persuasion, she climbs in with him.
There’s so much to like about Out of Sight. Lopez, who was bought in to replace Sandra Bullock, was 26 when the film was made - one of the first Latino actresses to break Hollywood. Clooney shows, for the first time, his Bogart-esque ability to be the bad guy you still root for. Elmore Leonard never wrote more soulful scenes. Soderbergh’s direction is crisp and cool.
But the soundtrack makes the film. Out of Sight was composed by David Holmes, a 27-year-old DJ from Northern Ireland. When Holmes first came on board, Soderbergh had cut the key scenes with tunes like “It's Your Thing” and “Fight The Power” by The Isley Brothers, “Spanish Grease” by Willie Bobo, “One Note Samba” by Walter Wanderley and “Ain't That A Kick In The Head” by Dean Martin. “My pitch to Steven was to look at the instrumentation of this music and from that create a score from what we already had,” Holmes said in an interview with Empire.
Holmes was known for his techno, house and breakbeat club nights around Belfast, and that fusion of smooth jazz, soul and Motown with his taste for deep, prog electronica makes for the film’s best moments.
Over that bath scene there’s a deep and melting bass line, the seductive throb of a snare and high-hat, a synth line shivering over the top.
Later, when the two meet again in a skyscraper bar high above the city, there’s brushed percussion, a heavy bass, trickling piano and sleazy guitar lead that, while subtle and understated, is like an intravenous drip of mood.
In his review of the film, the late Roger Ebert wrote: “Out of Sight plays like a string quartet written with words instead of music, performed by sleazeballs instead of musicians.” Call me a wanker, but it worked on me.
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