Steven Soderbergh Criticism - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann (review date 4 September 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1170 words.)

John Simon (review date 10 November 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 849 words.)

Karen Jaehne (review date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2217 words.)

Kenneth Turan (review date 4 December 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 677 words.)

Jonna G. Semeiks (essay date spring 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4548 words.)

Michael Wilmington (review date 20 August 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 829 words.)

Nick James (review date January 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 460 words.)

John Simon (review date 29 May 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Nick James (review date March 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 836 words.)

Peter Matthews (review date October 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 entire section is 2641 words.)

John Wrathall (review date December 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 571 words.)

Steven Soderbergh and Sheila Johnston (interview date November 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2247 words.)

Mark Steyn (review date 11 December 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1121 words.)

Philip Strick (review date January 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 649 words.)

Andrew O'Hehir (review date May 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 739 words.)

Roger Wade (review date May 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1894 words.)

Kenneth Turan (review date 27 December 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 998 words.)

Stanley Kauffmann (review date 22 January 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1427 words.)

Jonathan Romney (review date 29 January 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 932 words.)

Steven Soderbergh and Gavin Smith (interview date January–February 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3014 words.)