Opinion Piece – Steven Soderbergh: A Forgettable Career

Steven Soderbergh Benicio Del Toro

Steven Soderbergh: A Forgettable Career

By Jordan

27 feature films (plus at least 10 other projects including television episodes, documentaries and shorts) in roughly 28 years; it’s no wonder there aren’t many of lasting quality. As Steven Soderbergh (supposedly) farewells the movie industry with Behind the Candelabra, it appears appropriate to reflect back on what was, ultimately, a forgettable career…

Personally, I’m not acquainted with Mr Soderbergh, so any accusations levelled at his views on the industry are based solely on written interviews in film magazines, but through said interviews it is painfully clear to see a man endowed with creative talent at a young age stripped of individuality towards the middle of his career and exiting early without leaving behind any trace of a legacy. He lacked passion, excitement and visionary qualities that renowned directors of even the most downbeat experiences often exert. The Oceans 11 franchise will in the future be referred to only for its star-studded cast (if referred to at all), Erin Brockovich for Julia Robert’s actually quite annoying performance (although most will say brilliant) in an otherwise average movie and Magic Mike for being a chapter in the career resurgence of Matthew McConaughey. His only directorial trademark, is not having a trademark. Each of his films plays out as if made for TV, with no cinematic qualities or big-screen endeavour to speak of.

To give credit where it is due however, as to be expected in a catalogue of 27 films there are a few that rise out of the mire and take on a life of their own: his debut Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989), the rich in chemistry Out of Sight (1998), Stirring Traffic (2000), curious The Girlfriend Experience (2009, best viewed as part of a double-bill with Andrew Dominik’s enthralling Killing Them Softly) and… actually that’s it. Despite being respectable, none of these films could be considered masterpieces.

For those unfamiliar, his filmography (excluding TV and experimental films) is as follows:

Behind the Candelabra (2013), Side Effects (2013), Magic Mike (2012), Haywire (2011), Contagion (2011), The Last Time I Saw Michael Gregg (2011), And Everything Is Going Fine (2010, Documentary), The Informant! (2009), The Girlfriend Experience (2009), Che: Part Two – Guerrilla (2008), Che: Part One – The Argentine (2008),  Ocean’s Thirteen (2007), The Good German (2006), Bubble (2005), Ocean’s Twelve (2004), Eros (2004, segment “Equilibrium”), Solaris (2002), Full Frontal (2002), Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Traffic (2000), Erin Brockovich (2000), The Limey (1999), Out of Sight (1998), Schizopolis (1996), Gray’s Anatomy (1996), Underneath, (1995) King of the Hill (1993), Kafka (1991), Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989).

Another relevant way to prove Soderbergh’s mediocrity is taking a look at the careers of other American directors, whose debuts roughly coincided with his, and have recently released new films: Quentin Tarantino, Bryan Singer, Richard Linklater, David Fincher and Gus Van Sant among many others. If you removed all of Soderbergh’s films from cinema history, would that have less of an impact than solely removing Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction? Or Fincher’s Fight Club? The answer is yes, and that is extraordinary. 27 films from a supposedly revered auteur are of less importance than a single of many of his peers.

Steven Soderbergh is (or, was… though I think we’ll have to wait and see) a director-for-hire, far and away the worst kind. At least Uwe Boll injects his own style into the projects he undertakes, even if that style is ineptitude. He has given us films about sex and lies, now lets hope there really are no more videotapes.

I’m aware that for some reason he has his fans. To me though, he is a hack.

But it’s just an opinion.

35 responses to “Opinion Piece – Steven Soderbergh: A Forgettable Career

  1. Gone but not forgotten by me at least, I appreciate Soderbergh’s understated approach to his material. His apparent blandness might stem from his arguably frustrating inability to sell his ideas to an audience (though more likely its his unwillingness). I do agree his career remains unfinished, and his style seemed to undergo something of an identity crisis towards the end, or was it perhaps that his style was slowly but surely being consumed into the fringes of Hollywood? (I could feel Soderbergh’s pulse pumping through Moneyball, for example, a film he had originally been attached to direct). In some sense he reminds me of de Palma, a filmmaker not afraid to riffle through the back catalogue of cinema in search of a style, and who perhaps never really seemed to arrive at something satisfactorily his own. His creative quality seemed to diminish with the quantity of work, working non-stop can’t make it hard to see where the creative road is taking you. Perhaps he’s just hibernating, taking stock of his intentions and his style before making a glorious return sometime down the road. I will say (as I have argued in the past on my own site) he does have a unique style, albeit a certain je ne sais quoi that I’m still trying to figure out.

    • I’m glad that you have an appreciation of his style, we all see in films different strengths and weaknesses.
      In regards to De Palma, I feel that he has lost his way of recent times, but at the peak of his powers to me he is the American Argento, who is the Italian Hitchcock, ha, so he’s in good company.
      I hope you’re right, and that if Soderbergh returns its with a stunner.

  2. “His only directorial trademark, is not having a trademark.” – great observation. He’s very hit or miss for my tastes. Remaking a Tarkovsky film?, vanglorious but it worked.On the other hand some can be left behind(Ocean’s Thirteen). There’s more quality than not in his massive catalog. We’ll see how long til his ‘retirement’ lasts.

    • Yeah I don’t think Solaris really required remaking, but then again we can say that about pretty much all classics, and its certainly far from his worst work.
      I’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing him again sometime soon.
      Cheers – Jordan

  3. I don’t really get the fuss made about Soderbergh either. For such a prolific filmmaker, there’s only a couple of his films I have any fondness of (Behind the Candelabra, Out of Sight) and many more I dislike (the Ocean’s series, Haywire). I agree that removing his contributions to cinema from film history wouldn’t have a very noticeable impact, especially when compared to the careers of his contemporaries – maybe his lack of a distinctive style, but willingness to approach bold subjects will lend itself better to TV (as he has expressed an interest in)

    • Yeah I think you could possibly be right there – I could see him going down the Larry David path of comedy.
      Out of Sight is a film that I’m very fond of, the chemistry between Clooney and Lopez is outstanding.

    • Contagion I feel, like nearly all of his movies, could’ve been far better with a more patient, fleshed out approach. It has impressive themes but doesn’t do enough with them and was more underwhelming than understated.

  4. Ouch. No love for Soderbergh, huh? I gotta say that ‘Schizopolis’ is still one of my favorite films, such a creative and chaotic story. Also, in regards to your “removing one film from history”-hypothetical, I believe ‘Sex, Lies & Videotape’ had a pretty big impact on the filmmaking scene, along the lines of the auteur vs. bigstudio fight. Just sayin’. Also, Soder’s legacy is not the sprinkling of big Hollywood films that everybody knows about. He will be remembered (in certain circles) for his indie experimental films, the ones that push the envelope and try crazy new things, like ‘Bubble’, ‘Girlfriend’, and ‘Full Frontal’. One more thing: ‘The Limey’ is awesome, and it’s crazy that it hasn’t been mentioned yet.

    • I do think you’re onto something there, and I know he does certainly have his audience, most of whom I’d argue have followed him from the onset and not been inspired enough by the majority of his career to jump on board.
      Limey is certainly one of his lesser known films, despite starring the great Terence Stamp.

    • Ha I think it’s those words “pretty” and “fairly” that sum up his career. Both could have been far better if made with a more cinematic approach I believe.
      Thanks – Jordan

  5. I tend to like a lot of Soderbergh pictures. I like the fact that he makes both main stream popcorn flicks like Oceans 11 and indie arthouse flicks like The Girlfriend Experience. I dont know too many directors that do that, You mentioned that he seems like a director for hire. I disagree Soderbergh injects each of his projects with his own personal touches. This is a guy who can put non actors such as Sasha Grey and Gina Carano and make them into good ones. Hell the entire cast of Bubble is made up of non actors and that is a good little thriller. His remake of Solaris is up there with one of the best science fiction think pieces along side Moon and 2001: a Space Odyssey (I prefer it over the way too long 72 version)

    • Thanks for the comment, you certainly raise a good point, but I should raise that Sasha had previously been (and was ok) in the cult horror flick with David Hess, Smash Cut.
      I may have to rewatch Solaris after this praise!

  6. I think he was a good director, with his best work being Out of Sight, The Limey, Contagion. He made is fair share of forgettable films, but I think his style will be as much a reason for me remembering the Ocean’s films as that of the cast. It’s a good question to pose, even if the final analysis and comparison to Boll is a little harsh.

    You all have a great site here.


    • Yeah I realize how harsh I’m being, but if I watch a movie feeling it could be so much better I get utterly frustrated, which is what happened 99% of the time with Soderbergh.
      Look forward to your further input.

  7. Saying that Uwe Boll is better than Soderbergh is so laughably and ridiculously wrong that I don’t think it’s possible that you’re being serious. To even suggest that Boll’s consistent (and without a SINGLE redemption!) failure to make a movie that didn’t completely and utterly suck, is in any way superior to literally ANY of Soder’s films is just wrong. I mean, if that’s your opinion, I guess you can think that. But even with my limited exposure to your site (I’m loving it, btw: well written, knowledgeable, funny) I can plainly see that you and Eddie are far too smart to actually believe that “Boll > Soderbergh”. It was hyperbole (hyperBoll?) designed to incite a reaction, which it has. So good job. (But you don’t REALLY believe he’s better, do you?)

    • Haha, I never said he’s better did I? I think I said that he’s inept, and gave him credit for at least consistently making terrible films as I’d rather that than spiritless average ones (although I do believe that Tunnel Rats, Rampage and Darfur are OK).
      Boll turned House of the Dead into one of the worst movies ever made, I can’t exactly forgive him for that.

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  10. Hi there,
    My name is Ellie I am a film student at Sydney Film School. I am currently doing a research study on the Erin Brockovich film and I came across your article. I was wondering if you would mind sharing your point of view on the Erin Brockovich film? Here are just a few example questions: Did you enjoy the film? What was your first response when watching the film? What were your thoughts on the issues raised in the film?

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