PROFILE: Steven Soderbergh

Welcome to Profile, a series of posts on filmmakers that I’m going to write and spread out over the course of the next few months. Today, I’m going to write about Steven Soderbergh.

Soderbergh is a popular American director who has made some of the best films of the last twenty years, from his indie masterpiece Sex, Lies and Videotape to his most recent outing, the thriller Contagion. He is also the director behind the acclaimed Ocean’s trilogy; three classic heist films that have made their way into the vocabulary of crime cinema lovers. He was also at the helm of the ambitious films Che, parts one and two, a five hour film about the life of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara.

Soderbergh is one of those directors known sometimes as a ‘chameleon’: meaning he rarely, if ever, made the same film twice. He covered a wide variety of genres, from suburbian discomfort to experiments in outer space, and he did so with an undeniable skill and attention to detail. Things like dialogue are carefully considered and shot, as Soderbergh carefully guided his actors and crew members with his own creative vision.

His indie debut showed promise, and Soderbergh continued to deliver, with few blunders. However, it wasn’t until 1998 when his name was really thrust back into the headlines. Out of Sight was a commercial success, and a tremendously enjoyable action comedy. It’s follow-up, The Limey, received mixed reaction from critics, but some viewers have praised it as a masterpiece. While films like these showed promise, it was the next three films that really confirmed his place in Hollywood. Erin Brockovich is a compelling drama based on a true story that earned Julia Roberts an Oscar and was praised by critics. His next film, Traffic, earned even more praise. It earned Soderbergh the Best Director Oscar. A fantastic drama about the drug trafficking trade in America and Mexico, it remains one of Soderbergh’s true achievements. His next film, Ocean’s Eleven, was the beginning of an unforgettable saga of three films, all of which Soderbergh himself would direct. His next two films, Full Frontal and Solaris, are generally considered blunders and most critics disliked them, and many were angered by Soderbergh’s remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s classic sci-fi drama Solyaris.

However, after completing the Ocean’s trilogy, Soderbergh returned to top form with his two-part Che. Since then, he has created generally smaller pictures, such as the psychosexual The Girlfriend Experience, the intriguing but somewhat disappointing The Informant, and the little-seen arthouse documentary And Everything Is Going Fine. His most recent film, Contagion, has received a generally positive reception from critics and audiences.

Now I turn the discussion over to you. As with all the subsequent Profile posts, I want you to talk about Soderbergh. Start a discussion; which of his films do you like, love, or loathe? What do you like about his style and technique, or what do you hate? What did you think of his latest movie Contagion? Leave a comment about something, anything related to Soderbergh below, and keep an eye out for my next Profile post, which will focus on Darren Aronofsky.


Posted on October 27, 2011, in Filmmakers, Movies, Profile and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. I find that Soderbergh, by in large, is drastically overpraised. His films range from interesting to dismal. Traffic, at least from what I’ve seen, is his only great film.

    The Oceans series goes downhill after the first picture and Contagion is middling and convoluted.

    Still, I’m interested in CHE… after that, Soderbergh does very little for me – particularly because his films tend to lack in terms of evoking emotions and get far too caught up in tedious, showy camerawork by Soderbergh himself.

    • Hahaha I have only seen five of his films, but I liked them all. They were: SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, OUT OF SIGHT, ERIN BROCKOVICH, TRAFFIC and OCEAN’S ELEVEN. I have had doubts about his other films; CHE is the only one I am in a hurry to see.

  2. That’s some impressive lineup of movies and like you there are quite a lot I still have not seen yet!

  3. No, never saw the original, have written it down in my “to watch” list

  4. Hi, Tyler and company:

    Soderbergh has been lucky.

    More miss than hit with me. Making waves with ‘Sex Lies and Videotape’. Which got him the notoriety and clout to pull in big names for a few mediocre films (‘Out of Sight’ and ‘Erin Brockovich’). Before doing little more than cranking out a much cleaner, less gritty, Americanized copy of the far superior, UK mini-series ‘Traffik’. Then trying his luck using a similar template with ‘Solaris’.

    Was not impressed with the ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ franchise and don’t hold out a lot of hope for either ‘Contagion’ or ‘Che’.

  5. I’ve only seen Ocean’s Eleven, which I think you have to if you’re my age (“You’ve not seen Ocean’s Eleven? Best film ever! You can’t be in to films…”). I liked it, but it wasn’t a masterpiece at all. Then I bought Che, and I thought it was the first part, but no, it was the second one… how stupid.
    Contagion sounds interesting, though. Same goes for Traffic and Sex, Lies and Videotape.

  6. I quite like Soderbergh, especially his willingness to always try different things. Sure, some of them really don’t work, but at least it’s something new for him. You never go “yawn, another typical Soderbegh flick”, because no such thing exists.

    I’d say Traffic, Ocean’s Elevan, The Informant and The Girlfriend Experience are my favorite films of his. The Limey I could never quite get into, and Full Frontal is a colossal failure. More often than not though, I like the movies he makes.

  7. Although Soderbergh’s films aren’t all great, I admire his experimental nature. Sex, Lies, & Videotape, The Limey, Out of Sight (my #1 pick), Ocean’s 11, Solaris, and The Limey are my favorites.

    Although they aren’t all winners, they are always beautifully acted and photographed. The fact that he doubles as the DP from time to time is even more impressive. I also like that like most great directors, he has assembled a group of actors that he uses over and over again, i.e. Luis Guzman, Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Matt Damon. He just makes it all look so easy.

  8. Oops… forgot to throw Traffic in there. Easily Benicio Del Torro’s best work as an actor.

  9. So let’s see how this goes:

    Soderbergh is fantastic. While not all of his films are great (and some bordering on horrible) I love him as a filmmaker because he’s willing to take risks each time doing something completely different. He never comes at a project without a distinct vision in mind for how to make it fresh.

    Imagine what the Ocean’s series would look like directed by someone like Shawn Levy, Brett Ratner, or even Ron Howard (yes I’m going to name him). The films would be pretty bland.


    My favs: Kafka, Traffic, Oceans Trilogy, Contagion, The Girlfriend Experience, Sex Lies & Videotape, The Good German, Erin Bronkovich, Che
    Likes: The Limey, Out of Sight (some great scenes but when it’s done I’m not completely in love)
    Dislikes: The Informant, Bubble

    • Wow, you’ve got a lot more favorites than dislikes. I guess people like his films quite a lot. I probably haven’t seen anywhere near enough of them.

      • I guess that’s why I asked you to do him… I love his work. While for some undgodly reason he’s not my 100% director fav (that goes to Aronofsky for now) he’s up there for me mainly because he’s willing to take risks. I’m so looking forward to Haywire. He’s never done action 🙂

  10. I’m a big fan of Soderbergh. The Limey, Out of Sight, and Traffic are great films. I also enjoyed how he made the first Ocean’s film entertaining without resorting to dumb tactics (he fell short with the sequels). He’s also did a solid job of remaking Solaris, which is no easy task. They’re not my favorites, but his indie work in Bubble and Schizpolis might not work perfectly, but they’re interesting attempts. I’m actually doing a Soderbergh marathon on my blog in a few weeks, and I’m looking forward to checking out some of his lesser-known work like Kafka and King of the Hill.

  11. Ooh a new series. I like it! Is it going to be a weekly feature?

    I recently watched Contagion as you know and I quite enjoyed it.

    Soderburgh does like to mix it up hey? I mean we have HAYWIRE coming next which could not be anymore different from Contagion.

    Happy Friday

  12. I’ve only seen Out of Sight and Traffic but both are really good. This is a nice addition to your blog, Tyler, hope to see more from this series!

  13. There’s a terrific film by Soderbergh, I think it was only his second, which has languished in obscurity for decades, since it’s never been released on DVD. It’s called King of the Hill, based on a memoir by the American writer A. E. Hotchner of his Depression-era youth. It’s an unexpectedly “straight” film for Soderbergh, in the same way that The Straight Story was for David Lynch, but very worthwhile. The truly devoted may turn up a copy somewhere on bootleg or VHS. I’m also a big fan of Soderbergh’s super-cheap Bubble, which remains a potent reminder of how a truly talented filmmaker can make a wholly compelling movie with virtually no money. Contagion left me a little puzzled; I wouldn’t include it among his most worthy efforts. Though, while the Ocean’s movies are often derided as commercial crap, it’s the best made, most entertaining kind of commercial crap.

    • I’ve heard of KING OF THE HILL and BUBBLE, but they don’t look very easy to find. I’ll keep my eyes out though, as indie Soderbergh is my favourite Soderbergh.

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