sex, lies, and videotape (Steven Soderbergh, 1989)
[originally posted 12Mar2001]
Soderbergh’s first big-league film (he directed the Yes concert video 9012Live a few years before this) didn’t really set any new standards for the cerebral nothing-really-happens flick, but it did prove to Hollywood that audiences are willing to experience things that don’t involve large numbers of explosions on a much larger scale than they realized. Things do blow up in this film, but on a much smaller scale, and without the pyrotcehnics involved in bigger-budget efforts.
John Melaney (Peter Gallagher, probably best known as the coma patient in While You Were Sleeping) is a not-nice guy. Not nice at all. He’s married to the repressive sister (Andie McDowell), sleeping with the more liberated sister (Laura san Giacomo), and not terribly concerned with who’s going to find out. He is visited by an old school friend. Graham (James Spader) is the slick, weaselly guy you usually find prowling the bars, actually living the dream that the guys with the big gold chains and umbrella drinks are dreaming. Graham, however, is impotent, and he sublimates his sexual urges into a fetish for recording women he knows talking about their sex lives. This seemingly harmless affectation ends up throwing the whole finely-balanced ecology around the other three main characters into disarray.
Soderbergh is great at keeping the tension high in this film, despite the relative lack of anything going on most of the time. The four characters keep things going at a steady pace, leisurely and tense at the same time, helped along by a select handful of minor characters who provide the necessary comic relief (Steven Brill is especially good in this regard). A fine movie all around, and while it never quite gets over the top into true greatness, it’s still solid to the core, and very well done in a genre where to fail is to create a spectacularly awful release (eg. The Turning). **** ½