Saturday, August 18, 2012

Surprise! A Soderbergh Double Feature

And the only thing we forgot was the popcorn.

How the hell I went so many years without seeing "Out of Sight" is beyond me, because this kind of movie is right up my alley - an exceedingly well-made crime thriller, based on a book written by one of the masters of the genre, Elmore Leonard.  Maybe I just couldn't believe that Jennifer Lopez had the chops to pull it off.

Well, she did, and J-Lo, I apologize for doubting you.  Lopez' performance in "Out of Sight" is so good that it makes me wonder what might have happened if she had decided to focus her efforts on high quality motion pictures instead of fairly pedestrian cinematic fare and a decidedly pedestrian musical career.  But hey, it's not too late - now that she's off of "Idol," maybe it's time to refocus on what she does best.

And then of course, there is this guy named George Clooney, who is at his best in roles like this, a likeable but flawed character.  It sounds a bit pandering to say that he oozes charm, but it is what it is, folks.  Given that the movie was made in 1998, you can almost see the machinations going on in his head, figuring out exactly what it is that was about to make him the closest thing that this generation has to a Cary Grant.

The screenplay crackles with wit, and the supporting cast is stellar - Ving Rhames as Clooney's buddy from prison, Dennis Farina as the loving dad of Lopez whose idea of a great birthday present is a new gun, Don Cheadle in scary mode as an ex-boxer, ex-con who doesn't shy away from doing whatever he needs to do to make the next score, Steve Zahn doing what Steve Zahn does best, and even Albert Brooks as a millionaire ex-con, showing that "Drive" wasn't a fluke.

And yes, the seduction scene is as good as everyone says.  And notable, because of the way it treats both characters with respect.

And then we moved on to "Contagion," another example of how Soderbergh can crossover between genres with ease.  The premise of the movie is very simple - a killer virus is spreading, faster than our best scientists can figure out how to stop it (or even figure out exactly what it is), and leaving few untouched as it travels across the globe and infects the good, the bad and everything in between.

In the wrong hands this could have been a ridiculous enterprise, but an incredible A-list cast of thousands (Matt Damon! Gwyneth Paltrow! Lawrence Fishburne! Kate Winslet! Marion Cottilard! Jude Law! Jennifer Ehle! Elliot Gould! Demetri Martin!  Hundreds of other recognizable faces!) makes an investment in the proceedings, and never leaves the viewer thinking that they wished, just maybe, that they hadn't signed up for this one.

Soderbergh and his scenarist Scott Burns made an inspired decision when they began the outbreak on Day 2 - this amplifies the mystery aspect of the story, and creates a situation where the viewer is no smarter than the scientists who are struggling to come up with answers.  This eliminates the possibility of an "idiot plot," because we have no way of knowing whether the characters are making the right choices.  It was also wise to kill off one of the major potential saviors of the story, because this just raises the stakes that much higher.  And it was also wise to focus as much on the societal impacts of the outbreak, so we can see that there really isn't as much of a gap between "normal" and "chaos" as we might imagine.

Two more excellent films in a career notable for its accomplishment and its output.  Well done.

No comments: