Ann is married to John, who is having an affair with her sister Cynthia. Ann's a quiet type and unwilling to let herself go. When John's old friend, Graham, shows up, all their lives change. Graham likes to videotape interviews with women.Written by
a terrific, slowly unfolding debut with sublime performances
Steven Soderbergh, as observed by other reviewers and critics, did take inspiration from the kinds of films Eric Rohmer's been making for decades. These kinds of films, as Sex, Lies, and Videotape is at its core, about people in morality crises, and how they get out of them or linger with how they act is the point. Some people may not like the film, therefore, as nothing incredibly outrageous or spectacular will occur. For all the attention Soderbergh received (Golden Palm, Independent Spirits, Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, immediate recognition), he's made a small film, and it's not as ambitious as some of his later, greater works like Out of Sight and Traffic. But as a revealing, intimate character study, with an often clever and controlled mis-en-scene, Soderbergh shows his skills were already honed at twenty-six.
Without good acting the film would be like a hopeless rendition of a foreign film, but with the four lead performances from McDowell, Gallagher, Gia Como, and Spader (his is most under-stated of the bunch for me) these are as fully realized characters as Soderbergh could get. They all must've taken something about the characters in the script, because for all the flaws and misconceptions and fears these characters carry, they are human. Even Gallagher's John, who's the conniving husband and lawyer, is recognizably as he is even when he's comparatively lesser than Graham and Ann. Only one side character, the barfly played by Steven Brill, gets the film to immediately halt with uncomfortable humor. But the rest of the film, loaded with innuendo (there's not one shot of nudity, similar to a Rohmer film like Chloe in the Afternoon, where the cover art of the film is rather misleading to those looking for a film with breasts and other parts) and involving drama, doesn't shake its foundations until maybe the last five to ten minutes. And when it does, it does not make the film a lost cause, at least for me. Begs to be seen again, though with maybe a year or so between viewings. A-
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