Director Spotlight – Steven Soderbergh
To celebrate the release of Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move, available this week for Premium purchase or rental, we’re doing a deep dive into the expansive career of the prolific filmmaker. Catapulted to industry fame after winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his debut feature, Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989), Soderbergh has gone on to create cult classics such as Out of Sight (1998), win a Best Director Oscar for Traffic (2000) and become the mastermind behind the intense TV drama, The Knick (2014-15).
While his specialties lie in offbeat comedies, heist thrillers and psychological dramas Soderbergh has worked in just about every genre possible. He has tackled contemporary realities through his disturbingly-prescient films Contagion and Side Effects, used innovative filmmaking methods in High Flying Bird and Unsane, told larger-than-life biographical portraits in Erin Brokovich, Behind the Candelabra and The Informant! and even re-imagined classics in Solaris and Ocean’s Eleven to great effect. He always has a new film in the pipeline and if you haven’t seen his other 2021 release, Let Them All Talk, we can highly recommend it.
No Sudden Move features an all-star cast including Benicio Del Toro, Don Cheadle, Jon Hamm, Brendan Fraser, David Harbour and Julia Fox and is set in 1954 Detroit at a height of racial tension and rapid change. It tells the tense and thought-provoking story of a group of small-time criminals, who decided to search for their employer following a document heist that goes horribly wrong.
Read on for some commentary on what we have selected as some of Steven Soderbergh’s most entertaining and interesting movies.
Soderbergh re-emerged from retirement to make this movie and it is just so damn funny. The casting is perfect. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver paired as a couple of hillbilly brothers, Jimmy and Clyde Logan, who are much sharper than they seem. Daniel Craig as Joe Bang, a platinum blonde explosives expert. What more do you need? When Jimmy is laid-off from his construction job in the tunnels underneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway he hatches a plan – enlisting his brother and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) along with a questionable and, crucially, controllable team – to rob the speedway’s underground money tube during the busy Memorial Day event. Logan Lucky is stylish yet character-driven, laid-back but fast-paced. We shouldn’t be surprised how effectively these contradictions play off each other, but this might be right up there with Ocean’s Eleven as Soderbergh’s most entertaining and re-watchable movie.
Buy or rent Logan Lucky in the Movie Store.
The film, clocking in at under 90 minutes but feels much larger than it’s straightforward revenge story, has the force of a hurricane. What makes The Limey especially unique and subversive for the genre is the initially-disorienting but gradually-entrancing rhythms of the editing, which densely jumbles the timeline of the narrative by inserting jarring cuts to seemingly-disconnected sequences. Through this we start to piece together the emotional state and learn of the violent past of our cockney protagonist, Wilson (Terence Stamp), which adds context to his anguish and relentless hunt for record producer, Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda), the man he believes is responsible for his daughter Jenny’s recent death. Prowling the Los Angeles streets brandishing a huge silver pistol, willing to murder anyone he believes is connected to Valentine (who can forget: “tell him I’m coming”), Stamp’s performance is iconic, but his mission to avenge Jenny’s death reveals a genuinely unexpected catharsis.
Stream The Limey on Amazon Prime Video.
Just look at the young mugs of George Clooney and Brad Pitt up there. It is hard to believe that Ocean’s Eleven is now over 20 years old. It is one of those films that derail your carefully-considered viewing plans when you unexpectedly catch the start on TV. “I guess we’re watching this again.” Ever been there? It is such a fun film – the heist-comedy, which Soderbergh effortlessly resurrected again with the aforementioned Logan Lucky, is one of the most entertaining genres of film – but this re-make is clinically crafted and simply brilliant throughout, utilizing a blazing ensemble cast at fascinating (upon reflection) stages of their careers.
Buy or rent Ocean’s Eleven in the Movie Store.
Soderbergh’s zippy all-business sports drama features next-to-nil actual basketball action but has crackling dialogue and the bold athlete-empowerment concepts explored within feel like premonitions of a future the business could take. High Flying Bird is shot entirely on an iPhone 8, and it looks incredible, while a very fine script from Tarell Alvin McCraney (who co-wrote Moonlight, based on his own play) is carried wonderfully by the cast that includes Andre Holland (The Knick) and Zazie Beetz (Atlanta). In this thoroughly researched insider into the often cutthroat world of athlete representation, a sports agent (Holland), after learning he is to be laid off during an NBA lockout, attempts to pull off a risky career-saving plan involving one of his clients – a rookie player recently drafted into the NBA but sitting idle and unpaid. He proposes a radical evolution of the compensation owed young athletes as their private lives continue to be increasingly commodified to further the NBA brand.
Stream High Flying Bird on Netflix.
Honourable Mention: Magic Mike XXL (2015)
Now while Gregory Jacobs is the credited director of the sequel, a rare sequel that comfortably surpasses the original in our opinion, Soderbergh’s fingerprints are all over this joyous celebration of the power of performance. Credited under the usual pseudonyms of Mary Anne Bernard and Peter Andrews respectively, Soderbergh serves as the film’s editor and director of photography, and the film’s pace, visual palette and staging all resemble a “Soderbergh film”. While Magic Mike – which was loosely based on the experiences of lead star and Soderbergh regular, Channing Tatum – investigated the ebbs and flows of the American Dream and the often-crushing economic and aspirational impacts, XXL serves as a refreshingly low-stakes last-hoorah road trip for the inspiration-starved Kings of Tampa.
Buy or rent Magic Mike XXL in the Movie Store.