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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
sex, lies, and videotape (1989)
3 Stars

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Andie MacDowell, James Spader, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo.
1989 – 99 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for profanity and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 28, 1998.

Steve Soderbergh's "sex, lies, and videotape," which won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989, arguably began the resurgence of independent films. Made on a shoestring budget of $1.2 million, with then relatively unknown actors, it is a provocative, thoroughly original drama.

The film mostly focuses on the four central characters, all in their late 20's-early 30's. Ann (Andie MacDowell), an unfulfilled housewife, is married to John (Peter Gallagher), an insensitive lawyer, who, unbeknownst to her, is having an affair with her younger sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). Complicating matters even worse is Graham (James Spader, who won Best Actor at Cannes), John's old college buddy, who comes to stay at their house. Ann is absolutely won over by him, even though she clearly has stated that she has very little interest in sex. That is the set-up for the last hour of the picture, and since the film is entitled, "sex, lies, and videotape," it is best to keep the rest of the story developments at bay so that they will come as a genuine surprise.

Director Steven Soderbergh has proven to be a wildly offbeat filmmaker, ranging from the independent, to the mainstream (1998's "Out of Sight"), to the downright Kafkaesque (1997's "Schizopolis"). He is the type of director who obviously takes a lot of chances, and believes in the work that he does, and, "sex, lies, and videotape," is probably his most confident, and maybe even best, to date.

The performances are superb from all four leads, but MacDowell stands out in what is probably the main character. She is always a very winning actress, but this is probably her most three-dimensional role that she has had (with a close second being Altman's 1993 mosaic, "Short Cuts"). The other parts are perfectly cast as well, from Spader's ominous Graham, to Gallagher's self-involved John, to Giacomo's outspoken Cynthia.

The final act of the film, especially, comes right out of left field, and turns out to be both shocking and oddly touching, and it would be criminal to give away the film's secrets. Suffice to say that, through one powerful sequence, Ann is able to somewhat come out of her shell, and John learns a valuable lesson about honesty, as well as deception. The film has one fault , however. The characters are almost all emotionally cold and isolated from one another, and often unlikable. If there had been a few extra scenes with Gallagher, it probably would have helped, since his relationship with MacDowell isn't quite as explored as I would have liked.

"sex, lies, and videotape," although minorly flawed, is still easily a brave and adult motion picture that is far more mature and honest about its subject matter than the usual film. Soderbergh clearly knew what he was doing while he was making it, and the final product certainly proves this.

© 1998 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman