Feb. 19, 1999
"Out of Sight" & "The Horse Whisperer"
Although I have yet to even look at the Academy Award nominations because I completely don’t care, I am starting to catch up on some of the bigger films of ’98 as they become available on video. What this ultimately does is reassure me that I was correct in the first place for not bothering to see these films in the theater.
I was informed by several people whom I respect that "Out of Sight" was the overlooked gem of 1998. It also received very good reviews, not that that means much. Well, killjoy that I am, I didn’t like it. It seems like one more illogical, run-of-the-mill Elmore Leonard adaptation. Yes, it’s better than "Jackie Brown" or "Get Shorty," but that is certainly faint praise.
Elmore Leonard’s stories all seem like first drafts to me—he seemingly blasts his way through them and sends them off to the publisher before the ink is dry. I have no doubt that if Mr. Leonard thought his way through these stories a bit longer they would be much better. But why bother when the first draft will absolutely be published and most certainly sell quite a few copies? Elmore Leonard is obviously more concerned with quantity than quality.
I do not intend to recount the film’s plot, but as with most of Mr. Leonard’s crime stories, "Out of Sight" is about a lot of tough-talking criminals that spend a great deal of time shuttling between Michigan and Florida. There were at least five times during the film when I internally proclaimed, "That seems highly improbable," or "I’m sure," or "Get the fuck outta here!"
This brings up an issue that really bugs me—the "suspension of disbelief." We all go to the movies wanting to believe what we’re told; that’s why we spent the money and went there. But it’s the filmmaker’s job to make us believe the story, not for us to have to keep suspending our sense of disbelief. I’ll do it once or twice, but by the third time I’m a goner.
For me, "Out of Sight" can be lumped together with such notable films as "Top Gun" and "Days of Thunder" in its use of the good-looking babe in a completely inappropriate role. Oh, sure, Kelly McGillis is an astrophysicist, Nicole Kidman is a neurosurgeon, and, in this case, Jennifer Lopez is a federal marshal. I know this is totally un-PC to mention, but how can Dennis Farina be Jennifer Lopez’ father? Yes, I suppose he could be married to a Latina, but they never say so. It’s just like in "Much Ado About Nothing" where I am simply supposed to accept Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington as brothers and just shut up about it. I’m sorry, but I don’t. And I also don’t like having to attempt to fill in the logic holes in my imagination to explain how this might have occurred.
I also got a true sense of desperation from Steven Soderbergh’s direction. This is a guy that began his career at its high point, with "sex, lies & videotape," and has progressively been working his way down and out of the business. Both "Kafka" and "King of the Hill" were sort of interesting and not particularly commercial. Well, neither film did very well and you have to believe that financing was getting more and more difficult for the man to find. So he got himself on an Elmore Leonard project, which there seem to be several of a year now. Now he has to prove he’s a stylish action director. What’s Mr. Soderbergh’s answer to this? Freeze frames. In an utterly arbitrary fashion, the action keeps freezing for no good reason. After the third or fourth time this happened I felt like they ought to be simultaneously running a subtitle that read, "Caution: Director at Work." Then, to make sure we understand that he’s a contemporary, stylish director, Soderbergh begins jump-cutting just like almost every commercial on TV. Well, I’ve got news for him and everyone else—if they’re doing it on most of the TV commercials, it’s not stylish and it’s not interesting. Jump cuts and shaky hand-held camera work that tilts down to people’s feet for no reason is not only not hip and not stylish, it’s boring! "Out of Sight" does not have the shaky camera work, I’ll give it that.
Adolph Zukor, founder of Famous Players Film Corporation, which merged in 1916 with the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company to become Famous Player-Lasky which ultimately became Paramount Pictures, was the man that made feature-length films his mission in life. When Zukor started in the film business in 1913, movies were either one or two reels long, meaning 10 or 20 minutes. Zukor believed that movies ought to be a similar length to theatrical plays, meaning about 90 to 120 minutes long. The film distributors fought him, of course, saying that people
could not sit still that long. Then in 1914 the Italian film "Cabiria" was released at 148 minutes and in 1915 D. W. Griffith’s "Birth of a Nation" was released at 159 minutes. Both films made a lot of money and the feature film was born. Then, in 1918, Griffith released "Intolerance," which originally ran 208 minutes. Although the film was as spectacular as any film ever made, no one could sit through it. Griffith quickly re-edited the film to 178 minutes, but still no one was able to sit through it. Adolph Zukor came to a conclusion—people can comfortably sit for a maximum of two hours, then they must get up and go to bathroom or stretch or smoke or whatever. If one intended to make a film longer than two hours, there had to be an intermission about two hours in. And this is the way films were made from 1918 up to the 1970s. It’s not that there weren’t quite a few long movies made during that
time—"Gone With the Wind" is 222 minutes, "Lawrence of Arabia" is 216 minutes, "The Godfather Part 2" is 200 minutes—but they all have intermissions at about the two hour mark.
Now, however, we no longer get intermissions. Do Hollywood filmmakers believe that humans have gone through a genetic change since then and our bladders have gotten larger? I completely resent having to leave a movie and go to the bathroom, even if I don’t like the movie. But after two hours and a huge Coke, I always have to.
Which brings me to "The Horse Whisperer." This would have made a fine, insignificant, 90-minute TV movie jammed into a two-hour time slot. As it is, the film is a dull, slow, pretentious 166-minute snooze-fest. Obviously, the concept of pace and rhythm are completely outdated. For a contemporary movie to seem important and be taken seriously it must be at least 30 to 60 minutes too long and feel like molasses were poured all over it. Does Robert Redford actually believe this tiny little story needs a longer running time than "The Bridge on the River Kwai?" It’s completely insane.
Since Kristin Scott Thomas is seemingly happily married to Sam Neill, why the hell is she messing around with Robert Redford? And if Redford is supposed to be so fucking wise, why is he messing around with a married woman? It all gave me the creeps, very slowly.