4 StarsOften times movies are referred to as haunting and I sit there in a state of bewilderment. This is not the case with Steven Soderbergh’s haunting and streamlined version of the Solaris novel and 1972 Russian film. Clocking in at a scant 98 minutes, the film is rich in quality filmmaking craftsmanship and also in themes and tone. From the opening frames set on a perpetually rainy Earth, we meet Chris Kelvin a psychologist still traumatized over his late wife’s suicide. One night he receives a rather strange message from a colleague working on a space station. The man pleads for Kelvin to come to the ship and experience the phenomenon happening on board. If I’m being coy in my description of the actual events, it’s with reason. The entire first act is all smoke and mirrors, characters speak as if we are already up to speed on plot points we couldn’t possibly have know about. This may turn off viewers early, you know who you are. All others prepare to be wowed mentally and visually.
Clooney may seem like an odd choice for the lead role, it was being eyed by Daniel Day Lewis before Clooney stepped in. He nails it though, with one of his finest if most underrated big screen performances. The appearance of Chris’s deceased wife Rheya is an outlandish and well versed storyline. Film students should screen Solaris and 1997s Event Horizon back-to-back for a dissection of how material can be botched in lesser hands. With Soderbergh’s assured direction and brilliant screenplay all the elements come together for one of the greatest sci-fi tales of our era. From a visual standpoint this is a master class on editing, production design, scoring and set design. The corridors that line the orbiting vessel are the most gorgeously eerie environments since Alien.
Those looking for the scare tactics of that well established franchise will be greatly disappointed in this wondrous and free-forming film that plays tricks on us form the start and has the tenacity to stick with its complicated themes to the unforgiving conclusion. Solaris marks the third pairing of Clooney and Soderbergh, and to date it is the best film either has made. Fierce acting from Viola Davis as the ship’s captain and Jeremy Davis as a quirky technician add strong support. Produced by James Cameron and featuring effects from his production house Solaris is the rare film that is satisfying to the mind and eye in equal turns.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis