“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Flick Lit # 312: Out Of Sight
Elmore Leonard’s ability to manipulate conventional morality is best illustrated in Out of Sight: despite the fact that he has never used a gun or even threatened violence, Jack Foley is a legendary bank robber. He is also, as the novel opens, serving time in a maximum-security prison in Florida. He breaks out, only to run into US Marshal Karen Sisco just beyond the wire. Foley takes Karen hostage to make good his escape, until she manages to elude his clutches. The fix is in, however, and the cat-and-mouse game of pursuit is infused with a potent sexual tension. Charmed by the con’s irreverent attitude, the reader wants Foley to escape, even if convention dictates that Karen must recapture him. A more powerful dynamic than either is the desire to see Foley and Karen get it together, if only to see how they might manage to bridge the vast chasm between them. Leonard’s usual quota of quirky minor characters aid and abet the pair as the story meanders north to Detroit and the inevitable denouement. As always with Leonard, however, it is not what happens that matters as much as the how and why. The precision of his streamlined plots is such that Leonard creates the time and space to render his characters believable, sympathetic and quietly heroic. When the end comes, it leaves the reader feeling the same way as all of the Leonard’s novels do, vaguely dissatisfied that it has ended at all. Out of Sight (1998) was not the first time Leonard’s novels had received the big screen treatment. Mr Majestyk, Get Shorty and Rum Punch, re-titled Jackie Brown, had all been critical and commercial movie successes. However, Steven Soderbergh seemed an unlikely candidate to translate a best-selling novel to the big screen. His previous credits included sex, lies and videotape, Kafka and King of the Hill, all of which were projects that were critically lauded but failed to impress the public at large. Further, Soderbergh’s casting of his leads was somewhat idiosyncratic. George Clooney was best known either as a handsome but limited TV actor or the humourless ham from the Batman and Robin farrago. Jennifer Lopez, as Karen, was an MTV babe making her movie debut. Given that Out of Sight depended on the chemistry between its two charismatic characters, both represented risky choices. Not content with that, Soderbergh also decided to chop up the storyline, mutilating Leonard’s story with an elliptical narrative that depended heavily on unheralded flashbacks constantly interrupting the flow. The result was a tour de force. Out of Sight was smart enough not to have to proclaim its own greatness (e.g., the multiple ending in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown), sassy without degenerating into vulgarity, and sexy without resorting to crude exploitation, the dynamic between Clooney and Lopez a triumph of implausible casting. What Soderbergh read between the lines of Leonard’s novel was that Out of Sight had all the classic elements of both a crime caper and a screwball comedy. A seamless blend of They Live By Night and Pillow Talk, Out of Sight simultaneously raised the bar for romantic comedy even as it redefined the crime caper movie.- Michael McGowan