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Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Writing: Stanislaw Lem (novel)
Steven Soderbergh (screenplay)

George Clooney .... Chris Kelvin
Natascha McElhone .... Rheya Kelvin

Reviewed by: Stephen Lucas

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10/10, A+

Solaris, a romantic science fiction drama directed by Steven Soderbergh, is among the finest, most thought-provoking films that has been released in recent years. Last year I fell in love with Steven Spielbergh's AI Artificial Intelligence and Spielbergh's other sci-fi effort Minority Report this past summer of 2002. By a hair though, this film in my opinion, reigns superior to both. Adapted from the 1961 novel by Stainslem Law, brings forth questions of life, death, love and God. Here we're taken back to the roots of former science fiction that studies the complex emotions of its characters given their exposure to supernatural elements. We may not have been showered with glossy visual or audio effects in this picture, the story is so powerful and mind-bending, I was mesmerized. A film like this one may not find much of an audience though, taking into consideration that in fact it's a big-budget art film. Appreciation of this masterpiece may be scattered, but perhaps that will come with age as people may then see it for the grand film that it is.

George Clooney stars as Kris Kelvin, a therapist who's been invited by a friend to try and resolve a mysterious problem in space on the planet Solaris. Somewhat cautious, he accepts and when he arrives on the planet, he finds two ship members, Snow (Jeremy Davies) and Gordon (Viola Davis), both of which are apparently on the brinks of insanity. Snow is a soft-spoken guy, perfectly cast with Davies in the role, providing a somewhat comic relief in the heavy dramatic film. Kris looks to him for information on the mission and the unusual planet they've been sent to study. (I've concluded that Solaris is a metaphor of the unknown, but other interpretations will undoubtedly ensue.) Snow introduces Kris to his to his only remaining colleague, Gordon, who greets him apprehensively. It can easily be seen that something's up, but Kris remains in the dark until he gets an unexpected visitor, his dead wife Rhyea (Natasha McElhone).

McElhone, who's name isn't likely to ring a bell, holds her own opposite Clooney, delivering an inspired performance. She's the perfect choice for the role of Rheya, a sexy, mysterious, and haunted individual. She's talented and truly mesmerizing on screen, her facial expressions alone are powerful. If you're among those wondering still who she is (as I did previously), you may have overlooked her underrated performance in The Truman Show as Truman's liberating dream-girl or small supporting roles in films such as Ronin and this year's trite-fest, FearDotCom. By what I saw in her with her performance here, Natasha McElhone fully deserves her own leading role. In the case of that happening, I'll be one of the first in line.

With Clooney in the lead role, as emotionally conflicted Kris Kelvin, it's likely that the majority of his fan base would probably go and see this film and most of them walk out disappointed. (Except the fact Clooney reveals his bare derriere in Solaris.) He's in top form here, finally showing his range as an actor, after playing so very many stereotypical characters in years past. This is his third outing with director Steven Soderbergh as an actor, even though the two started their own production company together (Section Eight) a few years ago. The dynamic duo have collaborated several times as producers on various films, including two critical darlings this year - Insomnia and Far From Heaven.

Solaris, has already been deemed a commercial flop, falling short of even the $20 million mark, domestically. It's sad to think that audiences failed to indulge in Soderbergh's latest film, a grand accomplishment for its genre. I'm growing more intolerable with the countless number of sloppily-made sci-fi films by the year, the ones that emphasize special effects and neglect an engaging or logical storyline.

Here we have been gifted with a drama set in space that returns to what the genre was originally intended to be - the study of complex human emotions. For some that may sound rather dull, but the truth is that every minute of the film is poetic, every cut inspired, and every line of dialogue skillful in delivery. Not only has Soderbergh made perhaps the best film of his career (neck-and-neck with Traffic) but he has put himself in the company of legendary filmmakers, destined to be an icon of cinema himself one day.

Review by Stephen Lucas, January 16, 2003

copyright (c) 2003 Stephen Lucas, used with permission

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