Watching Out of Sight, which appeared on HBO Now at the start of September, was a choice made as part of my knee-jerk search to find strange artifacts of film from my middle/high school years that achieved critical recognition despite being unknown to me personally.
Wow. That’s a paragraph.
Point being, the movie was supposed to be good, I hadn’t seen it, and it being from the 90s all rolled together to make it perfect weeknight viewing. Out of Sight also happens to be based on an Elmore Leonard novel of the same name, which showers the movie in bonus points.
Of the whole movie, though, there are two scenes I wanna mention, and both consist of the two stars (George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez) in straight up conversation with each other. There’s tension around both – in the first, Clooney’s Jack Foley is escaping from prison and has kidnapped Lopez’s Karen Sisco, a cop, and, with the help of his friend, shoved himself and her into the trunk of their getaway car. In the second, much later in the film, the two meet in a fancy hotel lounge to fan the flames of a forbidden fling.
Both scenes lean hard on the stars to carry them – neither one has much in the way of outside action. There’s almost no movement, and while the car scene is occasionally cuts to other events, our stars remain firmly in focus. This could have been a disaster – wooden exposition, or even witty words delivered with forced comedy would have broken the immersion. Instead, we get an exchange that sounds pretty darn real – from the scene in the car:
Jack Foley: You sure are easy to talk to. I was thinkin’, if we met under different circumstances…if you were in a bar and I came up and we started talkin’…I wonder what would happen.
Karen Sisco: Nothing.
Jack Foley: If you didn’t know who I was.
Karen Sisco: You’d probably tell me.
Jack Foley: Just saying if we met under different circumstances…
Karen Sisco: You have got to be kidding.
Now, take those words and read them aloud yourself. Kinda sleazy, kinda blah. You get the impression that Karen Sisco might be about to pour her drink out all over Jack Foley’s head. Instead, Clooney and Lopez honey over the words, charm oozing out of Clooney’s delivery and an exasperated amusement from from Lopez, who seems in disbelief over the whole situation and, too, with herself. Why’s she talking to this guy? Why’s he so ridiculous? Is she actually having fun here, trapped in the trunk of the car?
The situation’s so implausible, but we’re willing to believe it because the delivery, coupled with a conversation that sounds real, makes it so.
Now, in the second scene, at the hotel bar, the stakes are raised. Sisco could arrest Foley at any moment, and the question is… why doesn’t she? And Foley attempts to provide an answer with a line that ought to come off as corny and cliched, but in the moment, because Clooney delivers it with the stammering urgency of someone desperate to make their point, we buy in:
Karen Sisco: Well, does this make any sense to you?
Jack Foley: It doesn’t have to. It’s something that happens. It’s like seeing someone for the first time… like you could be passing on the street, and you look at each other and for a few seconds… there’s this kind of a recognition… like you both know something. The next moment, the person’s gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it. And you always remember it, because it was there, and you let it go, and you think to yourself, “What if I had stopped? If I had said something?”
Jack Foley: “What if, what if?” And it may only happen a few times in your life.
Jack Foley: Or once.
Karen Sisco: Or once.
It’s a freaking fairy tale line, but delivered here, in this way and between these two characters, a bank robber and a marshal, we believe it. The rest of the story almost doesn’t matter because we just want to spend more time watching how these two are going to find a way to be together.
So what’s the point? I guess the point is that with a little bit of tension, fun characters, and dialogue that doesn’t sound like it came out of an 8th grade English class, you can immerse people into your story even without the special effects, the action, or the world-ending stakes.
All you need is two people talking.