Steven Soderbergh 1963-
(Full name Stephen Andrew Soderbergh; has also written under the pseudonym Sam Lowry) American screenwriter, director, and producer.
The following entry presents an overview of Soderbergh's career through 2001.
After years of working on the fringes of the Hollywood movie industry, Soderbergh emerged into the spotlight as the 26-year-old writer and director of the independent feature film sex, lies, and videotape (1989). The film has since been credited with precipitating the boom in independent filmmaking that took place during the 1990s. Following his initial success, Soderbergh varied his subject matter and style with each successive film, ranging from period drama to experimental satire. Soderbergh eventually began utilizing the assets of big-budget studios, and combined those resources and techniques with his own unique style. His work as a director on films such as Erin Brockovich (2000), Traffic (2000), and Ocean's Eleven (2001) has been well-received by critics and audiences alike, with each of these films also proving commercially successful at the box-office.
Soderbergh was born on January 14, 1963, in Atlanta, Georgia. His family moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when Soderbergh's father took a position as a professor at Louisiana State University. At the age of thirteen, Soderbergh took an animation course at the university, but found the animation process slow and tedious. He then audited a Super-8 moviemaking class, during which he began making short films. This class was the only formal film education that Soderbergh ever participated in. After finishing high school, Soderbergh moved to Los Angeles. He worked at a series of odd jobs, including video editor, cue-card holder, and game-show scorekeeper. Soderbergh became disillusioned with life in Hollywood and returned to Baton Rouge, where he worked as a coin changer in an arcade. After making the Grammy-nominated video for the rock band Yes's 90125 album in 1986, Soderbergh had the resources to make his first feature film. Several of Soderbergh's own experiences with women served as the basis for material in sex, lies, and videotape. The movie was made for $1.2 million, a small budget by typical Hollywood standards. It was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and was warmly received by audiences and critics. In 1989 sex, lies, and videotape won the Palm d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival in France and was nominated for the award for best screenplay written directly for the screen. Soderbergh was besieged with offers to direct and adapt film scripts, but he chose to write and direct another of his own works, Kafka (1991). After a period during which several of his films were critically misunderstood or ignored, Soderbergh returned to his independent roots, directing Schizopolis (1996), which was filmed in his back yard with a group of friends and family acting as the cast. While not a popular success, Schizopolis allowed Soderbergh to regain his perspective for filmmaking. He took an assignment as a director-for-hire for Out of Sight (1998), a film adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name, beginning a new phase in his career as a successful studio director. Soderbergh received two Best Director Oscar nominations and two Best Picture nominations for Erin Brockovich and Traffic in 2000, and won the Best Director award for Traffic.
Sex, lies, and videotape examines issues of accountability in personal relationships. The film follows the lives of four people: Ann, a dissatisfied housewife; John, her philandering, self-absorbed husband; Cynthia, Ann's rebellious and adventurous sister, who is also John's lover; and Graham, John's college friend who exposes the lies and deceptions that are festering between the other three characters. As a self-imposed penance for his earlier life as a pathological liar, Graham keeps his contact with women to a minimum. He can only satisfy himself sexually by watching videotapes of women as they talk about their sex lives and fantasies. When Graham videotapes Ann and Cynthia's discussions of their own sexual experiences, secrets are disclosed that alter the relationships among all four characters. Kafka is a fictional narrative that casts the author Franz Kafka as the lead character in a mystery, set in a world reminiscent of the landscapes that the real Kafka described in his prose. King of the Hill (1993), based on A. E. Hotchner's autobiographical novel, follows the depression-era story of a twelve-year-old boy, Aaron, whose life is slowly beginning to unravel. His family lives in the Avalon, a deteriorating hotel where a sadistic bellhop locks tenants out of their rooms when they fall behind with their rent payments. Aaron's mother is confined to the hospital, suffering from consumption, and his father is a luckless peddler who struggles to pay the rent each month. Aaron's younger brother lives with other relatives and the family's future prospects appear dim. However, the film concludes with the family reuniting, suggesting a hopeful, more prosperous future. In Schizopolis, Soderbergh himself starred as the lead character, Fletcher Munson, a speechwriter for a self-help guru. Munson discovers that his wife is having an affair with a man who is his exact double. The plot becomes convoluted as Munson takes his doppelgänger's place, his double falls in love with a double of Munson's wife, and Munson's wife returns to her original husband. Out of Sight focuses on the burgeoning romance between an escaped convict, Jack Foley, and U.S. Marshall Karen Cisco, and the misadventures that result from their relationship. The film contains elements of romance, humor, and crime thriller, and is similar in tone to many 1930s romantic comedies. In The Limey (1999), an English ex-convict travels to Los Angeles to investigate his daughter's death from a suspicious car accident. The film has a distinctly 1960s feel and uses footage from a 1967 movie featuring The Limey's lead actor Terence Stamp during several flashback sequences. Erin Brockovich is based on a true story of a single mother struggling to support her three children, who secures a job at her lawyer's office after he represents her in a failed lawsuit. She stumbles upon a class-action suit in which a utility company is charged with poisoning a town's water supply with toxic chemicals. She stubbornly pursues the case, and due to her persistence and creative evidence-gathering techniques, the victimized families end up winning a judgement of ＄333 million. Traffic is based on the British Broadcasting Company miniseries of the same name and was filmed by Soderbergh with a hand-held camera. The film presents three story lines that examine different aspects of the war against drugs along the U.S.-Mexican border. The first story follows the lives of several corrupt Mexican police officers; the second relates events in the life of the wife of a San Diego drug lord; and the third examines the plight of a newly appointed U.S. drug czar and his addicted teenage daughter.
Sex, lies, and videotape was met with overwhelming praise from critics, industry professionals, and audiences alike. Brian D. Johnson commented, “It demonstrates that it is possible to succeed with the barest of essential ingredients: a sharp director, a handful of skilled actors and a canny script about a subject that is endlessly intriguing.” Reviewers have commended the film's cerebral tone and its successful attempt to involve the viewer in the voyeuristic impulses of its characters. A few critics have called into question the plausibility of certain aspects of the movie, including the unlikely pairing of Ann and John, but noted that their improbable relationship did not damage the overall impact of the movie. Soderbergh's follow-up, Kafka, was considered to be a disappointment by a number of critics, with reviewers faulting the film's unimaginative plot and confusing theme. Many commentators have noted the variety of themes in Soderbergh's films as well as his endlessly changing visual style. Throughout his changing oeuvre, however, some reviewers have found a consistent theme in Soderbergh films. Dave Kehr stated, “Solitude—its joys and its terrors—remains the single most persistent theme in Soderbergh's remarkably and carefully varied body of work.” However, much critical debate has surrounded Soderbergh's next series of films. Critics have remained divided in their opinions and assessments of King of the Hill, The Underneath (1995), Gray's Anatomy (1996), and Schizopolis. Some reviewers have argued that these films were ignored by critics and audiences, meriting much more praise and attention than they have been given; others consider them marginal efforts. Soderbergh did not experience widespread critical success again until Out of Sight, a big-budget, studio picture. John Wrathall asserted, “The real star of Out of Sight, […] is director Steven Soderbergh. Previously feted for the intellectual rather than visual qualities of his films, he rises to the challenge of his most mainstream assignment to date with a dazzling display of hip cinematic style.” Erin Brockovich and Traffic were widely critically praised, although some reviewers objected to Traffic, writing that the film did not fulfill its purported aim of making a strong statement concerning America's war on drugs. Some critics also questioned the plausibility of several plotlines, but overall, the film was applauded for its emotional impact and innovative storytelling style. Stanley Kauffmann stated, “Fundamentally, what Soderbergh has done with his career so far is not to beat the commercial film world at its own game—an ambition that is a death trap—but to find a way to employ the best of himself in the most expensive art on earth.”
Yes 90125 Live [director] (documentary) 1986
Winston [screenwriter and director] (film) 1987
sex, lies, and videotape [screenwriter and director] (film) 1989
Kafka [screenwriter and director] (film) 1991
King of the Hill [screenwriter and director] (film) 1993
The Underneath [screenwriter and director; written under the pseudonym Sam Lowry] (film) 1995
Gray's Anatomy [director] (film) 1996
Schizopolis [screenwriter and director] (film) 1996
Out of Sight [director] (film) 1998
The Limey [director] (film) 1999
Erin Brockovich [director] (film) 2000
Traffic [director] (film) 2000
Ocean's Eleven [director] (film) 2001
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SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “An Arrival.” New Republic (4 September 1989): 26–27.
[In the following review, Kauffmann discusses Soderbergh's preoccupation with the inexpressible in sex, lies, and videotape.]
Possibly the greatest pleasure in an art work is our perception that there is more in it than what we see or read or hear. Book or music or painting, play or film, what arrests us and awes us is the realization that the inexpressible is arising from what is being expressed. Howard Moss said: “Poetry is essentially the use of words to express the nonverbal,” and the statement is easily adjusted to fit the other arts.
The greater the art work, the truer Moss's statement is—in fact, the degree of “inexpressibility” may be the measure of a work's greatness. But every good artist gives us this experience in some proportion. Among American filmmakers Jim Jarmusch, with Stranger than Paradise and Down by Law, showed that he began and ended with what we couldn't literally see or hear. Now there appears another young American with the same interest in the inexpressible, the same concern to use the objects and utterances of the everyday as stepping stones to and through the mysterious.
Steven Soderbergh is 26 and, in conventional terms, is virtually uneducated. He began making films when he was 13, in high school in Baton Rouge; after high...
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SOURCE: Simon, John. “Sex and Violence, Together Again.” National Review (10 November 1989): 61–63.
[In the following excerpt, Simon offers a negative assessment of sex, lies, and videotape, calling it “overrated” and “irritating.”]
Sex, lies, and videotape may be the most overrated, and is surely the most irritating, movie in some time. Made by 26-year-old Steven Soderbergh in his home town of Baton Rouge, it won best-film honors at Cannes for its writer-director, and best-actor prize for James Spader, who plays Graham, a young man who returns to Baton Rouge after a nine-year absence. He comes both to see his old flame, Elizabeth, and not to see her, both with a wad of money and with no visible source for it, both to arouse the two women in the story and to declare himself impotent, both to seem a perfect scoundrel and to end up in what promises to be a good, fulfilling relationship with the wife of his ex-roommate and dear friend, John.
John (Peter Gallagher) is an up-and-coming lawyer who has just been made a junior partner at thirty, but who is cheating on his pretty though troubled wife, Ann (Andie MacDowell), with her sexy and sexually voracious sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). Cynthia works as a bartender at a strange establishment that has a bar roughly a mile long but only a single, permanent customer, evidently sealed onto his stool, and played...
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SOURCE: Jaehne, Karen. Review of sex, lies, and videotape, by Steven Soderbergh. Cineaste 17, no. 3 (1990): 38–40.
[In the following review, Jaehne analyzes the themes of sexual politics and voyeurism in sex, lies, and videotape.]
Sex, lies, and videotape sound like the ingredients for a one night stand, not the culmination of a masculine quest for liberation, as debut director Steven Soderbergh would have us believe. (The title lets us know e. e. cummings has met thirtysomething.) The two most interesting characters suffer from a sexual alienation prissy enough to preempt “Thanks for the memory” with “Thanks, but no thanks.” Ann (Andie MacDowell) can't bring herself to have sex with her husband, while Graham (James Spader), confessing to Ann that he can't get an erection in another person's presence, manages well enough alone by watching videotaped interviews he's made with women about their sex lives.
sex, lies, and videotape reminds one of Cole Porter's lyrics that “Even over-educated fleas do it” in the song “Let's Fall in Love.” It is a comedy, although critics are writing very seriously in response to its unnerving clarion call for love, truth, and confessions. Perhaps it is not so much about sexual politics as it is about the negotiations of sexual politics—that is, what people say and how they move and look when they want a very specific...
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SOURCE: Turan, Kenneth. “Kafka: A Beautiful, Confusing Letdown.” Los Angeles Times (4 December 1991): F1.
[In the following review, Turan offers a negative assessment of Kafka, calling it a disappointing second film.]
Imagine Franz Kafka as the Columbo of Prague, scuttling hither and yon, trying to solve what may or may not be a crime. Imagine the poor man getting involved in a pseudo-Kafkaesque plot that evokes great imaginative works of fiction and then serves them up with the sensibility of Mission: Impossible. Imagine anything you like, you will have difficulty imagining how much of a letdown Steven Soderbergh's Kafka finally turns out to be.
Soderbergh is the extremely talented young director whose deservedly lionized sex, lies, and videotape proved a revelation to movie audiences just two years ago because of its carefully nurtured emotional honesty. Apparently fearful of being typecast as the sensitive Woody Allen of his generation, Soderbergh has brazenly made a 180 degree turn here, coming up with an elaborate, artificial, distant film where everything of interest resides in an admittedly gorgeous surface. While Lem Dobbs' script is laden with both visual and verbal references to Kafka's work and is careful to be true to the basic facts of his life, Kafka does not have biography on its mind. Rather it intends, in the director's...
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SOURCE: Semeiks, Jonna G. “Sex, Lawrence, and Videotape.” Journal of Popular Culture 25, no. 4 (spring 1992): 143–52.
[In the following essay, Semeiks compares Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape to the work of D. H. Lawrence in regard to humankind's relationship with technology.]
Though the mad scientist is a stock figure of science fiction and horror films, as a whole Hollywood movies have reflected a more positive attitude towards technology than that expressed by the generality of novelists, poets and essayists. Beginning with the Romantic Age—shortly after, that is, industrialism began to alter the face and substance of the western world—many writers have regarded science and the technology it spawns with dismay and distrust. There are a number of reasons for this antipathy, including some very grave and deep reservations about the kind of material and philosophical alterations science has produced in our world. Perhaps a minor reason, however, is that the creation of a literary work has traditionally depended on no more technology than is embodied in the manufacture of pencils and typewriters. The wariness with which many authors continue to regard the word processor, a device which is the greatest boon to writing since the invention of the ballpoint pen, reflects the deep-seated distrust of technology characteristic of the literary world. Movies, on the other hand, are an...
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SOURCE: Wilmington, Michael. “King of the Hill: A Wonderful Film of Terrible Times.” Los Angeles Times (20 August 1993): 4.
[In the following review, Wilmington praises Soderbergh's King of the Hill as “one of the finest American films of the year.”]
Aaron Kurlander, the boy protagonist of Steven Soderbergh's heart-stirring new movie, King of the Hill, is the plucky, all-around kid many of us would like to have been: precocious writer, academic star, dead-eye marble champ, devoted son and brother, dauntless neighborhood explorer. He's a mensch of 12, king of his shining little hill.
As Soderbergh brilliantly re-creates Aaron's world—the events of writer A. E. Hotchner's autobiographical 1972 novel—we see everything more clearly. His hotel, the Avalon, is a deteriorating fleabag in 1933 St. Louis, taken over by the bank and slowly being converted into a bordello with dance hall annex. As tenants fall in arrears, they're locked out by a sadistic bellhop (Joseph Chrest). Aaron's father (Jeroen Krabbe) is a glib, threadbare huckster peddling unsellable glass candles, months behind in the rent and one step ahead of the car repossessors. His mother (Lisa Eichhorn) is fragile and work-worn, hospitalized with consumption. His younger brother Sullivan (Cameron Boyd) has been farmed out to relatives.
His neighbors are a gallery of...
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SOURCE: James, Nick. Review of King of the Hill, by Steven Soderbergh. Sight and Sound 4, no. 1 (January 1994): 48.
[In the following mixed review, James argues that King of the Hill is a conventional coming-of-age tale.]
The career of Steven Soderbergh highlights the degree to which film reviewing in Britain has to take reputations on trust. All we have seen of his work in this country is his debut, the Cannes Palme d'Or winner sex, lies, and videotape, which was greeted as a critical and popular triumph of economical film making. Yet Soderbergh's reputation is at a low ebb, simply because consensus has it that his follow-up—the reputedly bizarre and bigger-budgeted Kafka—is unreleasable. His third feature King of the Hill therefore has a lot riding on it, in that the former young upstart is perceived as needing a comeback to recoup his bankability.
That Soderbergh should choose perhaps the softest of film options—a rites-of-passage movie—might be an indication of just how badly he wants to be king of the hill again. This impression is amplified by the feeling that, in terms of emotional manipulation, the film is a world away from his impressive debut. Where sex, lies, and videotape was all low-key sensitivity, its modish minimalism emphasising an atmosphere of high sexual anxiety that explicitly includes the audience as voyeur, King...
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SOURCE: Simon, John. “Subverted Summer.” National Review (29 May 1995): 63–64.
[In the following excerpt, Simon offers a negative assessment of The Underneath.]
I have had scant use for Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape, and less for his Kafka and King of the Hill. Now comes a film that he had no writing hand in. So here is a chance to see what he can do when he can concentrate on his directing, which, in American film, is far more important than screenwriting. And I declare that in The Underneath, Mr. Soderbergh flunks the test with flying colors.
These flying colors are not just a metaphor. For the young director, with the help of his cameraman, Elliot Davis, immerses us in meaningless color baths that recur throughout. Sometimes everything is awash in greens, sometimes in blues or reds; most often there is no justifying colored-light source. And sometimes Soderbergh contrives a multicolored background as if, with conspicuous arbitrariness, the entire scene were shot in front of a cathedral window.
Equally exasperating are the extreme closeups. Thus someone will be talking in full-face or three-quarters in a very tight shot while, even more unbearably close, is the interlocutor, seen in quarter profile. The effect is visually obstreperous without dramatic necessity. Again, there are double exposures galore; indeed, the...
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SOURCE: James, Nick. Review of The Underneath, by Steven Soderbergh. Sight and Sound 6, no. 3 (March 1996): 54–55.
[In the following review, James discusses Soderbergh's directing style, its impact on the performances of the cast, and the overall feeling of The Underneath.]
There is a chill about the films of Steven Soderbergh that's hard to dispel. Like Atom Egoyan, he likes to needle his characters for their ordinariness, to tease the strangeness out of banal circumstances with unnerving pauses and edgy music. This approach was perfectly in keeping with the subject matter of his breakthrough film sex, lies, and videotape with its pathological look at post-Aids suppressed-erotic love. It was less apt to his 30s period piece King of the Hill, adulterating the child protagonist's wide-eyed, trusting point-of-view with anomie. With The Underneath, however—the second film version of the Daniel Fuchs novel Criss Cross, first filmed as a classic film noir starring Burt Lancaster, Dan Duryea and Yvonne De Carlo by Robert Siodmak in 1948—Soderbergh is trying to portray a character who is plausible, but hard to fathom, a man who has come back to his home town but doesn't appear to know why. An unease between people is therefore essential to the film's mood and structure.
The Underneath opens on the day of the climactic robbery. Using a...
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SOURCE: Matthews, Peter. “Blind Date.” Sight and Sound 8, no. 10 (October 1998): 8–12.
[In the following positive review, Matthews praises Soderbergh's film adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel Out of Sight.]
It's commonly asserted that pulp fiction is more readily transmissible to the screen than literature. Almost by definition, a major work imposes its own way of seeing, and the adapter—forced to truncate and simplify—usually ends up with a prestige-laden stiff. The second-rate or downright trashy, by contrast, liberates the adapter to improvise freely on its themes and structure, without pangs of conscience that anything too sacred has been violated. But the case of crime novelist Elmore Leonard reminds us that the reverse can also be true: there are writers whose sensibility is so exquisitely minor that finding a screen equivalent is nearly impossible. Leonard ought to be a natural for the movies—his books, after all, consist of page after page of laconic, off-the-wall dialogue alternating with functional descriptions of narrative action. No attempt is made to plumb characters' deeper motives, and even a qualifying adjective seems too much of a compromise. “If it sounds like writing,” says Leonard, “I rewrite it.”
It's as if Leonard's thrillers are already movies, with the brevity of language and exteriority a screenwriter is supposed to aim for. But almost...
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SOURCE: Wrathall, John. Review of Out of Sight, by Steven Soderbergh. Sight and Sound 8, no. 12 (December 1998): 55–56.
[In the following review, Wrathall offers a positive assessment of Soderbergh's “hip, cinematic style” in Out of Sight.]
Like Get Shorty, Out of Sight is adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel by Scott Frank and produced by Danny DeVito's Jersey Films (and also features Dennis Farina in a bit part). But while Get Shorty's director Barry Sonnenfeld played Leonard's material as farce, Steven Soderbergh, in this infinitely more sophisticated follow-up, plays it as romantic comedy.
From Jack and Karen's tantalising first encounter in a car boot, washed in the red of the brake lights, the film is fuelled by the sexual tension between the two leads, as opposed to any great suspense about who is going to end up with Ripley's diamonds. Seizing their chance after too many bad films (the nadirs being Batman & Robin for him, Anaconda for her), George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez are both much more interesting and real here than they have been allowed to be in the past.
With his slicked-back greying hair and bullish walk, Clooney's Jack is all the cooler for being slightly seedy (in the book, Jack is in his late forties). But he's also quite a poignant figure, aware of his shortcomings (“Do you know anyone who's...
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SOURCE: Soderbergh, Steven, and Sheila Johnston. “The Flashback Kid.” Sight and Sound 9, no. 11 (November 1999): 12–14.
[In the following interview, Soderbergh discusses his approach to filmmaking and his relationship with Hollywood.]
When sex, lies, and videotape won the Palme d'or in Cannes ten years ago, before making more than ＄100 million worldwide (on a budget of ＄1.2 million), Steven Soderbergh, then 26, became overnight the poster child of independent American cinema. The blockbuster event movies pioneered by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg in the mid 70s had dominated international markets for over a decade; Soderbergh's brilliant debut pointed to a different way forward. But then his next movies bombed: the angst-ridden Kafka (1991); King of the Hill (1993), the story of a small boy struggling to survive the Depression; the glacial film noir The Underneath (1995). Interviewed about the last, Soderbergh launched into a long, morose attack: “I've lost interest in the cinematic baggage you have to use to make a film palatable for a mass audience.”
Unsurprisingly, his career went quiet. He took on a string of behind-the-scenes producing and script-writing assignments including Pleasantville and the ill-fated US remake of Nightwatch. Plans for Quiz Show foundered when Robert Redford hijacked the project....
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SOURCE: Steyn, Mark. “Salute to the Sixties.” Spectator 283, no. 8940 (11 December 1999): 72–73.
[In the following review, Steyn argues that Soderbergh's visual style in The Limey successfully portrays the workings of the main character's mind throughout the film.]
Terence Stamp is The Limey; Peter Fonda is, well, the slimey—a scaly music biz exec Stamp flies to California to do battle with. It's a kind of Mod vs Rocker Seniors' Tour—or, to quote a prescient malapropism one of the elderly teachers delivered years ago in Please, Sir!, this is the aging of the dawn of Aquarius. Sixties people are always Sixties people, and The Limey's director, Steven Soderbergh, is clever enough to tap into all the baggage that Stamp and Fonda bring with them. So, for his title character's back-story, he simply lifts chunks of Poor Cow, Ken Loach's 1967 debut, in which beautiful young Terence larks around with bottled beehived Carol White. For Stamp's character, the Sixties is Swingin' London monochrome; for Fonda's, it's the psychedelic colours of gatefold album sleeves. But for both men it was their moment—‘The Sixties,’ Fonda explains to his nymphette girlfriend at one point, ‘was really just 1966 and the first half of 1967’—and both men seem, like Austin Powers and Dr Evil, to have stepped out of time for the last act in some ancient saga.
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SOURCE: Strick, Philip. Review of The Limey, by Steven Soderbergh. Sight and Sound 10, no. 1 (January 2000): 57.
[In the following review, Strick discusses the recurring symbol of “the wall” in The Limey and how this symbol relates to the various relationships in the film.]
It was around the middle of filming The Underneath that director Steven Soderbergh admits he lost interest in what he was making. There must have been a brisk mood change because The Underneath is undervalued and something of a treat to watch. But such crises of confidence are surely the secret behind the Soderbergh style, which habitually offers an assortment of disclaimers, distractions and second thoughts. Like most of his leading characters, Soderbergh appears to personify a combination of bravado and vulnerability, two extremes which constantly challenge each other. His protagonists are neither wholly innocent nor irremediably criminal; they are simply trapped by their own fallibility. Which is why the dominating image of Soderbergh's latest film, The Limey, is a wall.
With its montage of flashbacks and flashforwards, images as much from imagination as from memory, The Limey is almost a story that never happened, a fantasy briefly dreamed by airline passenger Wilson, perhaps on his way to Los Angeles, perhaps not. His quest, announced in the darkness punctuating the...
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SOURCE: O'Hehir, Andrew. Review of Erin Brockovich, by Steven Soderbergh. Sight and Sound 10, no. 5 (May 2000): 47–48.
[In the following positive review, O'Hehir credits Soderbergh for his restrained direction in Erin Brockovich.]
Much has been made of Julia Roberts' purported sexiness in Erin Brockovich and there's no doubt the star is an eyeful in her endless array of cleavage-exposing blouses and minuscule skirts (the question of where a nearly destitute woman gets all these clothes is not answered). But the real brilliance of Roberts' performance lies in the edgy, defensive quality beneath Erin's aggressive hotness. It's as if Erin accepts the world's judgement that her sex appeal is her most valuable attribute, but isn't sure it's ever brought her anything worth having. Still, the former Miss Wichita has no compunctions about employing her assets when necessary. When her lawyer-boss, the rumpled, beefy Ed asks her how she's so sure she can extract the necessary records from the water board's offices, she replies: “They're called boobs, Ed.” Erin may be a hero, but she's definitely no angel. She's hot-headed, short-tempered, insecure and vain. She can be gratuitously cruel to her co-workers and has little interest in female solidarity. She addresses one overweight female employee as “Krispy Kreme” (a popular doughnut chain) and scorns the suggestion her revealing attire makes...
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SOURCE: Wade, Roger. “A Law Unto Herself.” Sight and Sound 10, no. 5 (May 2000): 14–16.
[In the following positive review, Wade argues that Erin Brockovich is a subtle film that displays the craftsmanship of all involved.]
Of all Steven Soderbergh's films Erin Brockovich is his most mainstream and accessible, the kind of true-story David and Goliath tale that's likely to be written off as a crowd-pleaser. For one thing, it's very much a Julia Roberts vehicle. She plays Erin, a twice-divorced mother of three who elbows her way into a clerical job with a small law firm and ends up spearheading a case in which a large utility company is accused of exposing people living near one of its plants to dangerous amounts of toxic chromium. On almost every level the film is an exceptional work of craftsmanship: Soderbergh's disarmingly accomplished direction, Susannah Grant's sparkling script, Ed Lachman's subtle cinematography. But it's Roberts' brassy performance that is its mainstay, a striking return to her best form after Runaway Bride strained to shoehorn her trademark charms into an unsuitably nasty role.
If Erin Brockovich—with its richly drawn central character—seems good fresh material for Roberts, it's a far less obvious choice for Soderbergh. Interviewed in Sight and Sound last year, the director described the just-completed film as “an...
(The entire section is 1894 words.)
SOURCE: Turan, Kenneth. “Blurring the Battle Lines.” Los Angeles Times (27 December 2000): F1.
[In the following review, Turan offers a generally positive assessment of Traffic, but highlights some of the film's flaws, such as weak individual characterization and moments of melodrama.]
Maybe because the opponent is so terrifying and insidious (“an allergy of the body, an obsession of the mind,” someone calls it here), our desperation to win the war against drugs detailed in Traffic has made it the most unexamined conflict of our time, something we are more than willing to throw dollars at but not so eager to actually analyze and reconsider.
Given that, it took a certain amount of nerve to tackle the chaotic, unfocused, largely unsuccessful waste of lives and money that is the drug war today in a major motion picture with an ensemble cast including Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Complex and ambitious, Traffic is that film, and its examination of how pervasive drugs are, how wide a swath they cut in our society, though not always completely successful, is yet another indication of how accomplished a filmmaker Steven Soderbergh has become.
Soderbergh, whose equally sure-handed but very different Erin Brockovich came out earlier this year, has once again opted for a change of pace. For one thing, as written by Stephen Gaghan...
(The entire section is 998 words.)
SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Three in One.” New Republic (22 January 2001): 22–23.
[In the following review, Kauffmann offers a generally positive assessment of Traffic.]
Steven Soderbergh prospers, and his prospering is a chapter in recent cultural history. He made his debut in 1989 with sex, lies, and videotape, a small-scale film unique in its intelligent candor and self-confident rhythm. Two years later he presented the disappointing Kafka, not a bankrupt work but one in which Soderbergh was struggling to keep up payments on his residence in art. The same was true of his next picture, King of the Hill. His next four pictures, again not completely barren, were attempts to maintain membership in the slightly lower YDOP Club. (Young Directors of Promise.) Then he saw the light—one kind of empowering light. In 1998 he made Out of Sight, an action comedy-romance, flying with exuberant skill and with zero ambition toward gravity. What confirmed Soderbergh's right in his new mode was that it seemed a new true home for him, no slumming: Out of Sight was enjoyable. After The Limey, a reticent thriller with a strained twist, came Erin Brockovich, which gave Julia Roberts her best role so far and was even more pleasing than Out of Sight. And now comes Traffic (USA), a slick large-scale power vehicle that zooms toward large-scale success....
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SOURCE: Romney, Jonathan. “Take the High Way.” New Statesman & Society 130, no. 4522 (29 January 2001): 46–47.
[In the following mixed review, Romney argues that although Traffic is gripping, it fails to achieve a dispassionate feel.]
In the course of his career, Steven Soderbergh has gone from being a well-meaning, low-budget tyro (sex, lies, and videotape) to a mainstream pro-for-hire (Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich), with the occasional blip of personal eccentricity along the way (Kafka, his little-seen absurdist farce Schizopolis, the sublime fish-out-of-water thriller The Limey). Traffic is his most confident film to date, and the sort of grand, serious statement by which a journeyman signals to the world that he would rather be seen as an auteur—a stylist and a pensive commentator on the state of things. And maybe the odd Oscar or Golden Globe wouldn't go amiss.
Well, good for Soderbergh that his boat has come in. He is intelligent; he takes risks; he's interested in exploring structures and visual techniques—he even photographed Traffic himself, giving it a wide range of visual textures, from sheened Californian pastel to harsh, urgent deep blue and parchmenty yellow-brown. It's an impressive exercise; I only wish it seemed to be more heart, more urgency, or that it aspired to reimagine the world,...
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SOURCE: Soderbergh, Steven, and Gavin Smith. “Hired Gun.” Film Comment 37, no. 1 (January–February 2001): 26–31.
[In the following interview, Soderbergh discusses the making of Traffic and his shift away from independent films to directing Hollywood features.]
He used to be everybody's favorite indie maverick. Now he's Hollywood's favorite … Steven Soderbergh follows up his box-office smash Erin Brockovich with Traffic, an epic multi-character docudrama about the war on drugs.
“The Further Adventures of the Luckiest Bastard You Ever Saw.” That's the subtitle to filmmaker Steven Soderbergh's new book Getting Away with It, and it sums up a career that stands on its head Fitzgerald's line about there being no second acts in American lives.
The book consists of Soderbergh's interview with director Richard Lester on his life as a filmmaker, oddly interspersed with the younger director's own journal entries from 1996 and 1997, the “wilderness years” of his career. This was the interval between the unveiling of Schizopolis and the start of production on Out of Sight. Soderbergh had stalled as an independent filmmaker and had yet to establish himself as Hollywood's smartest, most unassuming in-demand director for hire.
Soderbergh hit the ground running in 1989 with sex, lies, and videotape,...
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Baumann, Paul. “Scorching the Screen.” Commonweal 116, no. 17 (6 October 1989): 529–30.
Baumann praises Soderbergh's gifts as a director as evidenced in sex, lies, and videotape.
Denby, David. “Hell-Raising Women.” New Yorker LXXVI, no. 15 (27 March 2000): 135–36.
Denby praises Soderbergh's straightforward approach in Erin Brockovich.
———. “Fast Track.” New Yorker 76, no. 40 (25 December 2000): 154–55.
Denby calls Soderbergh's Traffic “the most exciting and complexly imagined American movie of the year.”
Denzin, Norman K. “The Postmodern Sexual Order: Sex, Lies and Yuppie Love.” Social Science Journal 28, no. 3 (1991): 407–24.
Denzin discusses Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape and Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally in relation to a postmodern sexual order.
Doherty, Thomas. Review of Erin Brockovich, by Steven Soderbergh. Cineaste 25, no. 3 (2000): 40–41.
Doherty argues that the film Erin Brockovich is a star vehicle for Julia Roberts and that Soderbergh does a good job of showcasing her talents.
Heller, Scott. “Up in the Air.” American Prospect 12, no. 2 (29 January 2001): 30....
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