At the start of Steven Soderbergh’s ”Out of Sight,” George Clooney pulls a robbery of such dizzying suavity that he could only have learned it from the movies: He has stormed from a Miami skyscraper in a burst of dumb rage and whipped his necktie to the pavement-freeze-frame here, Clooney caught mid-heave as in some ’70s cop show. Then he strides into a bank and, gently bluffing, tells the teller that a bystander-nodding to a nearby man talking with a banker-will start firing bullets if she doesn’t fill a bag with cash. He kindly relieves her of it.
This is, in essence if not detail, the heist the hood played by Tim Roth describes at the start of “Pulp Fiction.” That Soderbergh, a wry genius whose “sex, lies, and videotape” reinspired U.S. indie film in 1989, should borrow a riff from Quentin Tarantino, another indie virtuoso whose “Pulp Fiction” first exhilarated us in 1994, is neither cute homage nor simple larceny. Rather, Soderbergh has explored Tarantino’s terrain — playing on his reanimated anachronisms and hyperacute allusions, his feeling for the possibilities of stylized small talk and the occult connections made by compulsive moviegoers –and made the most subtle, sensuous film to come out of Hollywood in the last year.
And it is very much a Hollywood film in its taste for high-gloss glamour and old noir trickiness, which may lead fans of the spare, arty “sex, lies, and videotape” to wonder: Nine years and this is what he comes up with? In fact, “Out of Sight” is a natural advance. The film began as an Elmore Leonard novel; the finest of all hack writers churns out paperback fantasias marked by a playfulness that lends itself well to the directors’ visions. ”Sight”’s freeze-frames, slow fades, and (in a scene between Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, the marshal on his tail) evocative voiceovers are old tricks that feel new because they prove essential rather than ornamental. Style here is substantive.
“Out of Sight” is a basic crime story made baroque by its satisfaction of the reasonable demand of an audience as jaded as Spader’s ”sex, lies” videophile — to be tricked into believing. Tarantino’s achievement was to show us how we respond to pulp; Soderbergh’s is to show us why.