Out of Sight
To begin at the beginning (unlike this film). This is one of my favourite films, without a doubt, and certainly my favourite Steven Soderbergh film (which is impressive, given my general opinion that the man is a genius). It's also the film that introduced Soderbergh to Clooney, which looks like it could be a tolerably important occasion in the film world.
This is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel of the same name. Basically, Clooney is Jack Foley, a bank robber, he escapes from jail, has to briefly kidnap Federal Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) to get away, and then goes off to pull a heist in Detroit, tailed by her, and meanwhile, they just happen to fall for each other. Although, it's not quite meanwhile, given that it's central to the film, and the chemistry is immediate. Lopez even proves that, given the right director (one who is prepared to make her follow direction), she can be a good actress. Clooney nails his now trademark laid-back cool, and the rest of the supporting cast are the actors I tend to pay to go and see: Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn, Ving Rhames… etc etc. They are all universally fantastic, especially Zahn as the dopey car thief Glen who always seems to get into a mess.
In between taking the story forward - it starts with Foley being arrested after a robbery when his car fails to start, and goes on to his escape from jail and heading for Detroit with his friend Buddy (Rhames) - we get flashbacks telling us why Foley, Buddy and Glen are heading for Detroit, and how all the other characters come in. Soderbergh's direction sparkles, with little freeze frames to emphasise key moments - but which end after Foley and Karen meet in Detroit, when as Soderbergh puts it on his commentary, 'We're all caught up'. Then we head on for the dénouement, a burglary in which it all ends a little badly (though not quite as badly as in the book), but not without a final little moment of glee.
The script is very sharp - Scott Frank hones his Leonard-adapting skills after Get Shorty, and honestly he should stick to comedy-drama given the evidence of his polishing of Minority Report. It all looks beautiful too - with Soderbergh practising his method of tinting different locations/strands of the film which came into its own in Traffic and which really works - especially in Detroit, a wondrous slatey-blue. The final production strand is the soundtrack - David Holmes in his first Soderbergh collaboration (before Ocean's Eleven) and it is truly funky. It works wonderfully, varying between the utterly cool, the romantic, and the melancholy of the ending.
I was one of the apparently very few people who saw this film in the cinema, as it wasn't an outright hit, and I think it's probably come into its own now, as everybody's realised just how good it really is.
This is a lovely little DVD set. Probably actually the best of the Soderbergh DVDs - at least the ones I own (which at the last count was everything chronologically from this till Ocean’s Eleven), although I believe that there is a swanky Criterion edition of Traffic out there. It has a commentary by Soderbergh and writer Frank, a fantastic Behind the Scenes feature, deleted scenes, and a little soundtrack section that takes you to areas of the soundtrack in the film and highlights it.
The commentary is great - Soderbergh and Frank are great hosts, they obviously get along famously. The track veers from friendly banter, to script detail, and details about the filming - the techniques, the sets, tales from the production. They talk quite a bit about things that are changed from the book - a fair amount, that I didn't realise when I read it - and it's clear that both have respect for the material, but know that you have to change things sometimes to make them work.
It seems from the 'Inside Out of Sight' feature that Elmore Leonard also gets this, and likes the film rather more than a little bit. The feature is a great Behind the Scenes - nearly all the actors contribute, as do Soderbergh, Frank and Leonard (who sports the requisite crime writer glasses... he's great). Particularly amusing is the cast talking about Soderbergh as a director. (Zahn: 'Soderbergh's drunk most of the time...') and Lopez playing dumb; Soderbergh: 'If you can get Don Cheadle in your movie, you should get Don Cheadle in your movie', Lopez: 'Who's Don Cheadle?'
There a small collection of deleted scenes on the DVD, and they're gems. They're mentioned during the director’s commentary, so you can know where they fit in the film, and why they were taken out. There are a couple of highlights. First up is the full, original version of the 'Trunk scene', before it was intercut with external action to prevent it from overwhelming the audience. It's great to see, but not quite; you can also understand why it needed to be changed. There's also a beauty of a scene between Foley and Buddy before Foley gets his first bath out of jail. It's hysterically funny, as they talk about the joys of having a bath, but the film wanders out of its mindset during it. There's also a couple of scenes with Foley talking to Ripley about the relaxation of watching fish, which makes the ending a little more obvious, and thus a little less fun. The only problem with the deleted scenes is that they all run one after the other, and so it's harder to pick out the ones you might want to watch.
Finally there's the soundtrack showcase - which is a little different to the music-only tracks you find on some DVDs, but that's effectively what it is. Some of the stuff on it is a little different to what is to be found on the soundtrack you can buy in the shops, but it's also a great advert for it. Then there's also your standard trailer, production notes and cast and crew filmographies to look at. All in all a very sweet little package.