As he’s repeatedly reminded us, Steven Soderbergh is inching closer and closer to the end of his career as a director. We’d been told that he planned to retire after four more movies: the action-thriller “Haywire” (opening January 20), a Channing Tatum male stripper movie called “Magic Mike,” the big-screen adaptation of the cult television series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” and a biopic about Liberace with Michael Douglas. Now it looks like one of those four movies isn’t even going to happen.
The Playlist reports that Soderbergh has decided not to direct “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” after he and the studio, Warner Brothers, “could not come to an agreement over casting and budgets”:
“With the studio already hemming and hawing over casting options, this week they delivered a low $60 million dollar budget proposal for what is supposed to be the first in a tentpole franchise threequel. Soderbergh felt the figure wasn’t enough for a ’60s set period spy film that’s set on four continents, and with a March date looming, he could no longer wait for the studio to refine numbers or set cast, officially pulling out of the project.”
The first problem for “U.N.C.L.E.” came months ago, when Soderbergh’s original star, George Clooney, was forced to leave the film due to an injury. According to The Playlist, Soderbergh and Warner Brothers were never able to settle on a suitable replacement. The director liked Michael Fassbender or Joel Kinnaman (star of AMC’s “The Killing”), then Johnny Depp flirted with the project, then more names were floated included Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. But apparently no one was really happy, and now audiences aren’t going to be happy either, because they’re not going to get to see Soderbergh’s “Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
I was really curious to see what Soderbergh was going to do with this material. Earlier this fall, he told Film Comment that he’d applied the lessons he learned editing “Contagion” to writing the “U.N.C.L.E.” screenplay with Scott Z. Burns. Working on pacing and “collapsing” action, as the director put it, they’d pared down the script to a scant 98 pages. It sounds like it would have been an unusually lean and economical blockbuster; of course, unusual is kind of par for the course when it comes to Soderbergh.
Sadly, it’s not going to happen. Now the biggest question is: will Soderbergh stick with his original plan of those four movies and then early retirement, or will he sneak another movie or two in to take the place of “U.N.C.L.E.”? The Playlist says nothing has been settled yet but notes that the filmmaker began “looking at potential scripts” once he realized “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was falling apart. As a devout Soderberghologist, I sincerely hope he finds one he likes.