As you may have guessed if you’ve read my review of Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, Side Effects, I don’t think Soderbergh’s retirement will stick. And it’ll be a real shame if he does, because the film world will be losing one of its brightest lights.
It’s worth admiring, just for a moment, Soderbergh’s epic output over the last five years: the two-part Che (2008); the entirely underrated Informant and the perhaps-properly-rated-but-under-appreciated The Girlfriend Experience (2009); and then, in a sort of sprint, the smart and entertaining Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike, and Side Effects (late 2011-early 2013). He’s also got a film in the can on Liberace that will air on cable sometime this year. (And there are two other films in there that I haven’t seen: a documentary on Spalding Gray and a comedy that appears to have been released in Australia?)
Not all of these pictures were artistic triumphs and several were a bit overly indulgent (I’m looking at you, Che). But Soderbergh has managed to do something really remarkable: He has created intelligent and crowd-pleasing works in a variety of genres while resisting the temptation to turn them into fomralist exercises. I can’t really think of another director who has done something similar; Kubrick was able to work in a variety of genres, but they always felt like “Kubrick” films. The Shining is a horror film as designed by Stanley Kubrick; Full Metal Jacket is a war film as designed by Stanley Kubrick, etc. Ridley Scott, perhaps, would be the closest. But even then, I feel like you know when Scott has directed the film in question. Soderbergh is less showy while remaining in complete control. He is, perhaps, the least auteur-like auteur working today.
As I say, it’s a shame to see him go. I hope he’ll be back soon.