Early retirements are common in the lucrative world of professional sports, even if many of them are only temporary (I’m looking at you Brett Favre). But these athletes tend to announce their surprise retirements at the last minute. Now, the entertainment industry is experiencing its own bout with a potential early retiree. Recent developments suggest filmmaker Steven Soderbergh is serious about his past claims of leaving show biz behind.

Soderbergh has been in Chicago for some time now filming Contagion. The potential blockbuster has an all-star cast that includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne and Gwenyth Paltrow. Damon recently spoke with the L.A. Times about Soderbergh’s immediate future.

Damon and Soderbergh have worked together on a number of films including Ocean’s 11-13 and The Informant! While it would be nice to hear this news straight from the director’s mouth, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard rumors of an early retirement. Only two years ago, Soderbergh announced his intent to call it quits by age 51.

It seems the remaining timeline of his career is already set. After Contagion, he begins production on Liberace, followed by what we expect to be a directorial finale with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Matt Damon all but confirms the remaining slate of projects.

“After this movie we’re doing ‘Liberace’ next summer with Michael Douglas, and then he might do one more movie after that with George [Clooney], and then after that he’s retiring.”

Damon’s comments resurrect a rumor that he argues hasn’t changed course since we last heard of it. In fact, his statement feels like an urgent message for us to savor what’s left of Soderbergh’s career.

“He’s retiring, he’s been talking about it for years and it’s getting closer. He wants to paint and he says he’s still young enough to have another career. He’s kind of exhausted with everything that interested him in terms of form. He’s not interested in telling stories. Cinema interested him in terms of form and that’s it. He says, ‘If I see another over-the-shoulder shot, I’m going to blow my brains out.'”

Before you get upset, look at it from Soderbergh’s side. He has already touched the peak with an Oscar win for Best Director in 2000 for Traffic (while also nominated for Erin Brockovich) and has directed over two dozen films (including Haywire and Contagion) in as many years. Soderbergh’s directing career is one with plenty to look back upon.

There have even been a number of projects he developed, but never finished, like the movie Knockout, which has apparently gone A.W.O.L, or the real-life baseball dramedy, Moneyball, which led the director into an decisive showdown with Sony. Needless to say, the man keeps busy. But maybe all that work has burnt him out. While I’m not sold on a full-blown retirement, Soderbergh absolutely needs a break.

It’s hard to believe that he can completely walk away from a career that has brought him such success. But many talented artists (and athletes) have prematurely walked away from glory. Personal factors tend to play a major role in those decisions and who is to say Soderbergh can’t find success elsewhere. According to Damon, he is clearly interested in other avenues of artistic expression. However, it’s sad to see a man with such distinct storytelling strategies consider himself void of that ability. Soderbergh’s unconventional approach has always been his strength. Some can’t stand The Girlfriend Experience, but in my opinion it was a beautiful example of an experienced filmmaker taking a new approach to style and substance.

Soderbergh never comes off as a joyless artist. Few filmmakers match his ability to run a production from multiple positions. For instance, he has been credited as a Producer, Director, Editor, Writer, Cinematographer and even Composer. Yet, this is just more evidence suggesting that he is burnt out.

The film industry will be left with a gaping hole if Soderbergh officially retires after his next few projects. His films remind us that not every filmmaker has to become a slave to his winning structure – that not every filmmaker is just a director or just a writer. It frustrates me to know that he wants to give up on the process. Maybe if I saw some of his painting work, I’d be willing to accept his foray into that field. For now, I feel like a retired Steven Soderbergh would be a blow to the industry.

What do you think of Soderbergh’s work? Are you sad to see him go or do you think he has plateaued?

Source: L.A. Times