Steven Soderbergh may not create a masterpiece every time he directs, but give him credit for trying a variety of styles.
In the past four years alone, we’ve had amusingly twisty (“Out of Sight”), dark revenge (“The Limey”), peppy determinism (“Erin Brockovich”), gritty realism (“Traffic”) caper comedy (“Ocean’s Eleven”) and improvised tedium (“Full Frontal”).
Now there is “Solaris,” a ponderous sci-fi film with a trance-like, dreamy tone. There is very little background music and very little action. It is not boring, exactly — which is to the credit of Soderbergh and his cast — but neither does it engage the senses the way good movies do. It tells its story in a flat manner and leaves you with the impression that you should have gotten more out of it than you did.
George Clooney plays Chris Kelvin, a psychologist who, despite living in the future, has not found a psychological cure for loneliness. His past is revealed to us in bits and pieces, and we understand he used to have a wife but no longer does, and that he works long hours with his patients. His home life is silent and solitary.
Then he is summoned to a space station near the planet Solaris. Apparently, he is the world’s best psychologist; the man doing the summoning indicates no one other than Kelvin would be qualified to deal with what’s going on here.
Upon arrival, Kelvin finds only two crew members remaining. One of them, a young technician named Snow (Jeremy Davies), seems to be mad, of the stark raving variety. The other, Dr. Gordon (Viola Davis), wants off this space station immediately, if not sooner.
Kelvin is soon visited by his wife, Rheya (Natascha McElhone), which seems unlikely, considering she is dead. He realizes she must be a specter of some kind, though she is made of flesh and bone. Snow and Gordon admit to having been visited by lost loved ones themselves, a fact which no doubt contributed to Snow’s craziness and Gordon’s irritability. The question now becomes what to do with the visitors: attempt to destroy them, or take them back to Earth.
George Clooney continues to establish himself as a proficient, if not overly accomplished, actor. His performance is strong and likable; it’s the material (written by Soderbergh and based on Stanislaw Lem’s novel) that seems lifeless.
C (1 hr., 38 min.; )