If Steven Soderbergh actually decides to retire, he’s going out on a high note.
The director’s latest theatrical effort, Side Effects, currently has an 84% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with top critics calling the drama “stylish,” “gripping” and “thoroughly satisfying.” Our own Katey Rich speaks of the director’s theatrical finale in her review, saying “the crisp digital cinematography, fine performances and air of cynicism about the modern world are perfectly Soderberghian.”
Great term, “Soderberghian.” But what does it mean? Can you define Soderbergh’s career and his cinematic output with a blanket term? And how will the industry remember Soderbergh a year from now? Ten years from now? Decades from now, when new cinephiles are pulling his films down from the digital cloud to analyze his impact.
Now that we're able to reflect on Soderbergh's career as a whole, I believe his body of work can only be characterized by its glorious inability to be categorized. The storyteller often transitioned into the next phase of his career before the industry was able to pigeonhole him (as everyone in Hollywood is so eager to do). Is he the "Indie" guy? The prestige-picture filmmaker? And he shifted the direction of his storytelling career because he wanted to do it, not because circumstances prompted him to react. That's beyond rare.
For the record, I don’t believe Soderbergh’s going to stay retired. The 50-year-old might need some time away from the grind of movie-making. The struggle to produce and distribute the types of films that interest him might be too much to endure at the moment, but the industry shape shifts every six months, and the director in Sodernergh eventually is going to be lured out of hibernation by a new storytelling device, a narrative he can’t ignore, or a collaboration opportunity with a blistering talent. Because that’s just who he is.
But let’s, for argument’s sake, assume this is the end of Soderbergh’s movie career. How will he be remembered? Will he be remembered at all?