I’ve never seen the first film version of Solaris. I have a fairly high tolerance for slow movies, but I’ve never dared to test this tolerance on Tarkovsky’s film. (Personally, I blame Russian Ark, a slow Russian film that I found offensively boring.) However, being a Steven Soderbergh fan, I’ve seen – and enjoyed – his version* several times now. I love its elliptic quality. The film isn’t willfully confusing, but neither does it believe in making everythign absolutely clear – which, more often than not, I find utterly boring and just a tad offensive. I enjoy having to use my brain at least a bit when watching a movie, I like having to put in an effort to get something out of a book or film, because in the end you tend to get more out of such books and films.
It’s also one of the first films that show George Clooney’s acting range. He’s not perfect, and there are one or two scenes that stretch his abilities perhaps a bit too much; but then, what is the convincing way to react when you’re millions of miles away from Earth and wake up to find your dead wife in bed next to you?
(Beware: the excerpt above is 9+ minutes long, but it highlights the film’s beautiful cinematography and its wonderful, hypnotic score.)
Before Solaris, I thought that Clooney was best at the Cary Grant type of role, as he does so well in Out of Sight and Ocean’s 11. To my knowledge, Solaris was the first time he didn’t put in a movie star performance, where he wasn’t suave and glamorous (much like Brad Pitt in Babel). And after that, he showed that he could pull it off convincingly in Syriana and in his lovely little performance in God Night, and Good Luck, his second directing stint. I admire his willingness to put the film and the other actors first. There are few stars with his charisma that succeed as well at letting others dominate the screen when it’s right for the film. And there are few stars that are as willing to make a complete fool of themselves when the movie requires it.
And to conclude this Clooney love-fest: if you haven’t seen his first directing stint, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, do so. It’s an intriguing, clever, highly entertaining film – and it’s got a wonderful sight gag that puts George’s mates Matt and Brad to perfect use. Talk about lead actors who can take a back seat, literally!
*I honestly wouldn’t call Soderbergh’s Solaris a remake, just as no production of Hamlet post-1603 is a remake of the original staging.