Recently I’ve been revisiting many films in my Top Films of the Decade list because I haven’t seen them in years and am curious how they hold up. Last night I watched 2002’s Solaris, which might have been the last Steven Soderbergh film I truly loved*. The year before he made Oceans 11 (both great entertainment and the highest grossing film of his career at that point), and the year before that he had been nominated for Best Director twice for Erin Brockovich and Traffic, (he won for Traffic). The most successful run in his career, when the artistic and commercial came together, came to an end with Solaris. The film stars George Clooney as a psychologist sent to investigate a research station orbiting the planet Solaris which essentially brings your memories of loved ones to life. It made just $14 million in it’s entire theatrical run.
Rewatching the film I can certainly understand why it was not a commercial success. It’s definitely arty, it asks the audience philosophical questions and allows them time to think about it with long stretches of silence. But it’s never boring and I can clearly see it’s influence on a similar (and more critically appreciated) thoughtful sci-fi film like Moon. I haven’t loved a movie of his in 8 years, and I’ve seen every single one in the theatre. Full Frontal, Ocean’s 12, Bubble, The Good German, Ocean’s 13, Che, The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant! were all mixed experiences but I still look forward to every film he makes because I respect him as a filmmaker.
I respect that he is constantly experimenting, he works fast but his films never feel dashed off, his films look great but he’s a filmmaker who’s interested in ideas, and above all he’s not afraid to fail. He may occasionally lose faith in his audience, but he wants to give them the benefit of the doubt. His next 3 projects are a Bourne-style thriller called Knockout starring MMA fighter Gina Carano and after that Cleo, a 3D Cleopatra musical with music written by Guided By Voices and a Liberace biopic with Micheal Douglas. It’s exciting to watch a filmmaker who works so quickly and who’s films are so diverse. My question is: how could someone not love Steven Soderbergh?
*Also interesting to note that Solaris was produced by James Cameron and in college I actually attended a test screening of the film when I worked as a market researcher and had to physically restrain myself from approaching Cameron and Soderbergh to tell them how much I loved them.