Did you realize that the upcoming medical thriller ‘Side Effects’ will be the last theatrical feature film from Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh? Were you even aware that Soderbergh directed ‘Side Effects’? If so, you probably didn’t get that information from any of the studio marketing, which neglects to mention the respected and successful filmmaker by name at all. How is it possible that Soderbergh’s cachet in Hollywood has fallen so far that almost no one has bothered to notice that he’s retiring from making movies?
It hardly seems all that long ago that Soderbergh won an Oscar for directing the War on Drugs drama ‘Traffic‘. Between 2000 and 2007, he was responsible for making several notable blockbusters, including that film, ‘Erin Brockovich‘ and all three of the ‘Ocean’s Trilogy‘ movies. Just last year, he had a pretty significant hit with the male stripper drama ‘Magic Mike‘, which grossed over $160 million worldwide based on a meager budget of only $7 million, making it one of the most profitable films of 2012. Love his work or hate it, Soderbergh is an important filmmaker. His decision to retire from the profession at the still-virile age of only 50, and the arrival of his final feature, should be major news events.
Yet here we are. ‘Side Effects’ will limp into theaters on February 8th with limited promotion and extremely low expectations for its box office performance. Soderbergh still has one more movie in progress, the Liberace bio-pic ‘Behind the Candelabra’ starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, which couldn’t even secure theatrical distribution and will air on HBO instead. After that, he plans to devote himself to painting and hasn’t ruled out working in TV if he finds an interesting project, but says that he’s done making theatrical features. Few entertainment media outlets have reported the news of his retirement.
Admittedly, Soderbergh isn’t the most commercially-minded director in Hollywood. The above popular titles may even be considered aberrations in his career. Many of his movies are small, experimental projects like ‘Schizopolis’, ‘Bubble‘ or ‘The Girlfriend Experience‘, none of which were ever designed for mass acceptance or appeal. Most of his hit movies were successful despite Soderbergh’s involvement, not because of it. Audiences were drawn to ‘Magic Mike’ for its lurid subject matter, not its filmmaking pedigree. A number of the director’s mainstream efforts (including the sci-fi drama ‘Solaris’, the all-star disaster thriller ‘Contagion‘ and the action flick ‘Haywire‘) have disappointed at the box office.
In a recent interview with Vulture, Soderbergh explains his decision to retire, what he plans to do with his time from now on, and why making movies today is so much more difficult than when he started. I feel that some of the disdain he expresses for film critics comes across as defensive, and his comments about Hollywood studios being efficiently managed and fiscally responsible are just plain bizarre, but it’s an interesting conversation with a filmmaker known for unconventional choices throughout his career, including when to end it.
[Thanks to Faisal for the tip.]