8 Oct

Title: Contagion
Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, Demetri Martin, Elliott Gould, John Hawkes
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, disturbing content and some language
106 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 


A lot has been made of Steven Soderbergh’s impending retirement, it seems like it’s never coming considering the guy has like five more films in various stages of development, but when he really does release his final film ever, which is set to be Liberace with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, he will be a director I will truly miss seeing new work from, and watching his latest, Contagion, that became all the more apparent to me. What’s so amazing about Mr. Soderbergh is his versatility in the topics he tackles in his films and the scope of them, he obviously rose to prominence thanks to his stunning debut Sex, Lies, and Videotape and from then he’s managed to produce big Hollywood films with huge casts (Traffic, the Ocean’s trilogy) as well as more artistically ambitious films (like his four-hour Che epic, or The Girlfriend Experience in which he cast pornstar Sasha Grey as his lead). And he’s made them all to varied to degrees to success, that’s true, but for the most part they are really amazing films and, more importantly, you never feel like this guy is compromising, even the Ocean’s films, which could be seen by many as a money-making move, are actually tremendously fun movies and, at the very least, you get the sense that Mr. Soderbergh and his amazing cast were just having the time of their lives making them.

But back to Contagion, the film at hand and his fifth-to-last film ever if his current retirement plans hold (he still has the already-completed Haywire, the currently-filming Magic Mike, a feature version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the aforementioned Liberace), this is another film that sees Mr. Soderbergh handle a huge cast full of seriously huge movie stars (you have 4 Oscar-winners here and another 4 who have been nominees) and he gets performances out of every single member of this huge cast that only a director as experienced as he can get. Seriously, this is a really well-acted film that’s just super tense and has a really neatly-written plot, a plot that’s about a deadly virus spreading, but one that handles the subject in such a smart way, insofar as that it takes a factual sort of explanation to it, that it really gets to be all the scarier because of that.

Because really that’s what makes Contagion so infinitely compelling, the fact that everything it says about this virus seems to be backed up by an logical explanation, or at least one that sounds logical. I’ve heard the film being described as science-fact instead of science-fiction, a kudos to the fact that they apparently worked with very smart scientists to create a virus that, while fictional, could very well be a real thing. And that’s what makes Contagion so scary, that’s why if you maybe go to a bar after seeing this one you will keep away as possible from the peanut bowl, especially because it’s precisely a peanut bowl that Mr. Soderbergh chooses to linger over after a sick-looking Gwyneth Paltrow grabs a few while waiting at the airport, he lets you know that the next person to go for a peanut will get a bit more than that.

This is the smartest disaster movie you’ll get to see this year, or maybe even ever now that I think about it, and it’s really a disaster movie from the very get-go which makes it all the better, Mr. Soderbergh wastes no precious time on expository scenes before that, you hear a cough as soon as the movie starts and then you’ll get a look at Ms. Paltrow, patient zero of this horrible new virus, showing the deadly signs of the disease. That’s the sort of movie this is, one that’s just incredibly fast-paced, you get little shots of people coming into contact with one another, potentially passing off something, you get all these very different cities accompanied by the number of people living in them, the number of candidates for contagion, it’s just really masterfully done, Mr. Soderbergh tightening the screws as much as he can to emphasize the tension here, it’s sharp and intelligent filmmaking at its best.

It shows that this is a director that has handled serious stuff with pure entertainment in the past in films like Traffic or Erin Brockovich, because he gives us a really terrific look at how government and society would handle such a huge pandemic but he mixes it so well with a purely entertaining and tense thriller that you never feel like this is too dense. Not to mention that, again, the talent assembled in front of the camera is just as amazing, with a who’s-who of Hollywood stars handling all of the ensemble roles. They don’t really get that much of a shot to really stretch into their characters, as they don’t get much time on screen because there are so many of them, but still, if you have Kate Winslet setting up the quarantine zones or Matt Damon as the husband of patient zero or Marion Cotillard trying to identify the source of the virus then you’re bound to see them do great things with these roles even in limited time, and indeed, they achieve some first-class emotional connection in very precious and small time.

Contagion is just a truly amazing film, Mr. Soderbergh finds a way to really make us feel scared and anxious and emotionally connected to characters that he actually keeps at arm’s-length for most of the film, and he uses this virus as a metaphor for so many things from greedy corporations to personal human relations, it’s just a wonder to watch him to do his thing here. A part of me wanted more depth to the characters to get to see these actors do wonders with them (or in the case of the blogger played by Jude Law, to make him not look like a thinly-drawn caricature of a more complex role), I don’t know, I guess I just wanted to see what Mr. Soderbergh could have done with an extra twenty-five minutes or so. But nevermind me nitpicking, this is still an incredible film, you will leave the theater afraid, that’s for sure, afraid about getting sick, afraid about how seemingly unprepared we as a civilization are if something like this happens, and afraid at only having four more films from this genius to look forward to.

Grade: A-


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