Director Steven Soderbergh is best known for his comedic fare, such as The Informant!, and his recent “Oceans” incarnations (Oceans 11, 12 13, etc.), as well as for gritty drams like Traffic and The Good German. He may now also be known as for reality-based movie making, with Contagion.
Soderbergh hangs just long enough on most everything people touch as the movie sets up just what would happen if a modern day plague set itself upon a hapless modern world, bogged down in procedure and red tape. You may find yourself squirming in your seat as you realize just how many hands were on the armrests next to you. Writer Scott Z. Burns supplies a smart screen-lay that is almost totally devoid of pat one-liners or silly dialogue. It’s shot in a high-minded sort of documentary style; achieving a look somewhat in between jumpy hand-held and slick Hollywood. Only barely reminiscent of other “disaster” flicks that follow a random bunch of people who eventually connect, what connects many of the characters and story lines is their shared affliction. And both writer and director up the stakes by not killing off only the characters you expect or want to go. And when they do go, it is done in a serious manner, not too over-the-top with projectile vomiting, but also not so subtly that it’s not believable. Seriousness and believability must have been the mantra on the set of Contagion, and it shows.
Some may view Contagion as a bit of a political Message Movie, and certainly there are some thinly-veiled shots at the readiness of disaster response in general, at governmental red tape, and even organizational concerns on the state level. But in the end, those elements simply must be included in any sort of cinematic treatment of What Would Happen If? But also Contagion examines how people would respond to such a situation, the Good, the Bad, and the Iffy.
All of the actors must have gotten the seriousness/believability memo, and even beyond the lead stars, there is a LOT of people in this movie: Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, and Elliott Gould, among others. But they are incorporated into their various story lines very naturally, and not trotted out under a spotlight as if to say – check it out! Look who we got in THIS movie! Kudos to Soderbergh for his direction of these various actors, as well to Winslet especially, whose ability is so valid she can emote through a face-engulfing mask. And you’ll see Paltrow in a whole new light, too (a dissecting light. Ooohh- spoiler! Sorry).
Video & Audio Production
Not really an effects movie, Contagion nevertheless makes the possible downright here-and-now believable through even its news-oriented style, editing pace, choice onscreen fonts, and what I like to call, Fun With Foam! Again, not exactly a pea-soup moment, the make up eschews typical the Hollywood style of more-is-more approach and succeed in showing a slow creep of symptoms, capped with a wrenching final Fun With Foam.
the music accompanying most fo the film is tastefully done so as not to pull you out of it, however, some of the montage sections suffer form almost coming off too slick; like a pre-package intro on Fox News: “Plague Paranoia – Death From Inside!”
Not exactly a “crowd-pleaser” Contagion still may leave you wanting a bit more story. It seemingly ends with a bit of a shrug, almost too soon for its own good. There seemed to be more to tell; or maybe there was just a hole where the typical Hollywood ending should have been. Either way, Contagion is one serious drama, and one that may have you rethinking the latest wave of political haranguing over deregulation and defunding of certain government programs and response teams. Give those folks all the frigging money they need, or get ready for Fun With Foam!
Overall Score from Rich Bonaduce: B+