I’ve been on a serious Steven Soderbergh kick following Magic Mike, a film I loved more than just about anyone I’ve come across (in person or online). I’ve seen all of Soderbergh’s films multiple times, so to fill the void, I’ve been relistening to his many exquisite director’s commentaries for his own movies.
In those commentaries, which Soderbergh elects to never do alone, the person he is talking with often asks Soderbergh about his choice to convey naturalism in his movies. It’s an interesting and fair question, as Steven Soderbergh is, arguably, the most naturalistic mainstream director currently making films. This is for a number of reasons, but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on some of Soderbergh’s casting decisions in helping to achieve his naturalistic vibe.
But let me get two things very clear right away. First, I’m a fan of Steven Soderbergh, so this post is going to be unanimously positive, while (hopefully) dishing out a few devil’s advocate retorts. Second, I know all well that Soderbergh does not consistently make naturalistic films (or cast “naturalistic,” i.e. unprofessional, actors). There’s nothing naturalistic about the cast of Erin Brokovich, the Ocean’s films, Out of Sight, and so on. Those are star vehicles and are presented as such.
|Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience|
What I’m talking about is Soderbergh’s “one for them, one for me” mentality, specifically the films that fall into the “one for me” category. When you look at Magic Mike, Haywire (and, to some degree, Che, Traffic, Schizopolis, and Full Frontal) and especially Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience, you’re looking at a director who is bucking the Hollywood system. (Remember, let’s just stick with casting.) Sure, many of those movies have a handful of stars in them, but for the most part, all of those films contain what I consider to be stellar performances by non-actors, or actors doing their very best to strip away the artifice of acting.
This is why, for example, I consider the respective performances of Cody Horn (Magic Mike), Gina Carano (Haywire), Sasha Grey (The Girlfriend Experience) and Debbie Doebereiner (Bubble), to be some of the best acting from the past 10 years. (Interesting that those are all women, a connection I hadn’t made until just now.) From a standard movie acting perspective, all of those performances are horrible. They stutter and stammer and struggle to speak. When they argue, they pause to find the right phrasing. When they move, they stall to be sure of where they are going. In short, they talk and act how real people talk and act. Say what you will about David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin (two writers I absolutely love), but no one talks like that. No one argues with that swiftness of ease. Similarly, as a former courtroom reporter, I’ve sat in many a murder trial, (and one would-be terrorist bombing) and I can tell you that I’ve never once heard a lawyer talk how lawyers talk in movies. It simply doesn’t happen.
|Cody Horn, in the best, most naturalistic scene in Magic Mike|
But that’s why we love movies, isn’t it? The people in them can be perfect. They talk how we want to talk (or how we want our heroes to talk). Their moves are precise and determined. Bullets don’t penetrate and punches don’t bruise. That’s moviemaking. That’s what we’re used to. And I love it to death.
What Soderbergh is trying to achieve is something completely raw and new. He thinks that by hiring people who have never narratively acted, he is injecting a sense of realism into the film. From where I’m sitting, he’s right. Many would disagree, and that’s fair. It’s a dangerous game to play – most of the people I know who go to the movies don’t want to be reminded of real life. They want to see Avengers avenge and Dark Knights rise. Fair enough. To take escapism out of the movie game would to eliminate 95 percent of the movies that are released. Many of which I love, many of which I hate, some of which I consider necessary.
|Michael Fassbender as Brandon in Shame|
Last week, I let my dad borrow Shame (which he hadn’t seen). When he finished it, he called me and said that he didn’t enjoy the film, but he appreciated the hell out of it. When I asked him why he thought Michael Fassbender wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, my dad’s response was that, “There is a some of Brandon in all of us. Not sex addiction specifically, but there are secrets. Everyone has secrets, and when you remind people of that, it scares the shit out of them.”
I couldn’t agree more, and there’s some of my dad’s thinking toward Shame that correlates with my thinking toward Soderbergh’s casting choices. People don’t want to be reminded of the stammers and pauses that occur during a lover's quarrel, they want the clean, crisp confidence of a courtroom lawyer demanding to know the truth from a corrupt Marine Colonel.
Sure, I wish more people loved Steven Soderbergh’s films as much as I do, and sure, I wish more people “got” his tendency for naturalism the way (I think) I do. But, again, it’s impossible for me to hate on people that simple don’t dig it. Me? I’ll take Cody Horn’s naturalism over Tony Stark’s posturing any day of the week. Call me crazy, call me dignified, but there is something I find ungodly refreshing in watching actors take the acting out of the equation. It’s not something I want to see in every film, mind you, but something that is, indeed, quite good for films.