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Solaris (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Two behind the scenes featurettes; The script; Commentary by Steven Soderbergh and James Cameron.

GEORGE Clooney and Steven Soderbergh have rapidly become two of the most important filmmakers in the industry today, a mainstream duo willing to take risks in all areas of the profession.

Solaris marks the third collaboration between Clooney, the actor, and Soderbergh, the director, and is another incredibly stylish effort, even though it heralds a complete change of direction for both of them.

A supremely entertaining slice of psychological science fiction, it is the type of film that audiences will either buy into completely, or depart thinking it a complete waste of time; a movie which owes a lot to the Stanley Kubrick school of filmmaking, with its measured, deliberate style and ability to provoke intelligent debate about the nature of love, loss, religion and fate.

US audiences have already turned their back on it, no doubt confused by the misleading marketing (this is no Star Wars or Event Horizon), yet for those who are willing to explore its themes, Solaris makes for extremely riveting cinema.

Based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem, the film finds Clooney as Dr Chris Kelvin, a man still struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife (Natascha McElhone), who agrees to investigate the unexplained behaviour of a small group of scientists aboard the space station Prometheus, near the planet Solaris, who have cut off all communication with Earth.

Arriving alone, he is shocked to find that the crew’s captain, Gibarian, has committed suicide, and that the remaining crew members are exhibiting signs of extreme stress and paranoia without being able to properly explain them.

It isn’t long before Kelvin, too, becomes trapped by the mysteries surrounding the planet, while also being offered a second chance at love and the possibility of changing the course of a past relationship that has caused him overwhelming guilt and remorse.

Solaris, while bearing all the ultra-stylish visual hallmarks of a Soderbergh film, is a far more serious affair than the likes of Out Of Sight and Ocean’s Eleven.

For starters, the usually charismatic Clooney is relatively subdued, appearing as a broken, vulnerable man from the outset, and a million miles away from the smooth-talking ladies’ man of old.

It is a part which requires few words and a great deal of inner searching which, in the hands of a less accomplished actor, runs the risk of alienating audiences. Instead, it strikes a near-perfect balance between emotional despair and the need for scientific explanation.

McElhone, too, is suitably sultry as the object of Kelvin’s obsession and it is easy to see why her death could prompt so much soul-searching.

Yet while the performances are without fault, it is the direction the picture takes during its latter stages, as ‘answers’ become replaced with more ‘questions’, and the truth about Solaris becomes blurred, that audiences are likely to have their patience tested, as Soderbergh requires viewers to arrive at their own conclusions, based around the choices made by Kelvin.

Just what is Solaris? What does it represent? Is it a state of purgatory? Or, as Soderbergh himself puts it, is it merely a ‘convenient and wonderful metaphor for anything that you don't understand’. It is a concept that audiences should have fun unravelling because, as Gibarian puts it in one of the movie's dream sequences, 'there are no answers, only choices'.

This is clearly a personal project for all concerned and one which isn’t interested in pandering to the masses. It is a risk which makes the film all the more satisfying for its refusal to cop out.

From here, the Clooney/Soderbergh partnership moves on to the former’s directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, while also being responsible for Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven (as producers) - another two projects which are generating much acclaim.

So while they appear to have waved goodbye to the mainstream, for now, their place among Hollywood’s filmmaking elite has seldom seemed so clear. Solaris is another essential chapter in the art of making intelligent cinema.

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