review for Solaris on AllMovie

Solaris (2002)
by Michael Hastings review

Easily the strongest of the melancholic sci-fi studio pictures to arrive in post-millennium multiplexes (see also A.I., Vanilla Sky, and Minority Report), Solaris represents yet another curve ball from jack-of-all-trades director Steven Soderbergh: a minor-key space-travel lament told with deliberate echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rather than being a show-offy attempt at a genre he's never covered, however -- "look, ma -- sci-fi!" -- Soderbergh's adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's novel might be the filmmaker's most personal project. One could speculate that by shifting the focus of the source material from the mysteries of space and existence to the larger and perhaps more-baffling puzzle of love and devotion, Soderbergh is in some small way working through his own failed marriage. At the very least, it's his most passionate exploration of two pet themes that run through all of his films: memory and regret. Reigning in the potential for pop-psychological blather is George Clooney, whose passionate, carefully modulated performance requires him to call up not only his usual reserves of sex appeal and smirky charm, but also his heretofore unexploited paranoia and vulnerability. The project is a quantum leap for Soderbergh the cinematographer, too; the grungy, off-the-cuff stylist of Traffic and Full Frontal offers up a steely, black-and-blue vision of the future that's punctuated by red, hazy flashback sequences and deliberate, methodical long takes, all the while exhibiting his unerring sense of camera placement. Ponderous in the best sense of the word, the resolutely unsuspenseful project may not have served up the requisite thrills for genre fans, but that's to be expected -- Solaris has far more to say about universal human truths than it does science fiction.