Skip to main content

Review: Contagion

Steven Soderbergh is not a cuddly director, as exhibited in Che, he likes to bring you into the grit. This is a global scare and not one of us is safe. Not one. The horror of the film is that it is not like The Andromeda Strain or Outbreak, this is entirely conceivable.

We first meet Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) on an overseas trip and upon returning to her home she randomly becomes sick. Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) has no idea of what is happening and no inclination of what to tell his kids. The infected start spreading and soon the population is eating itself whole. Bloggers and talking heads, some with good-intentions and some not, are all part of media in this century prioritized to be panic-centric.

Jude Law plays a journalist whose name hits the stratosphere when he uploads a video of a man dying on a bus. There is no context to the death, but that doesn't matter. By inciting a panic he can become the new Kingmaker of nightly news. Law embodies the sentiment, “Blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.”

Contagion is unique in that the film spends a great deal of time in the CDC. Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) is handling the crisis in a modern age where globalization is a boon to the economy, yet a death knell for spreading disease. He sends Dr. Orantes (Marion Cotillard) to Hong Kong to investigate the disease's origin and Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) to treat a very distraught Mitch in Minnesota.

Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns aren't just interested in genetic viruses, but the viruses that plague our communication systems. And it's a pleasure to see a film with a laser-focus on what the actual danger of an outbreak is: human behavior. We create distance, yet we never choose to do so at the appropriate time. When we go to work sick and endanger others, we don't care. Ironically, the closeness that gets us infected is all but abandoned when the crisis hits.

Despite the high caliber cast, a majority of the focus is only on Damon, Law and Lawrence Fishburne. Kate Winslet, and Marion Cotillard are good, though their cumulative screentimes leaves one wanting more, as does the brisk running time at 100 minutes.

The only flaw to Contagion - if it is a flaw in the eyes of Steven Soderbergh - is that there is very little audience connection to the characters. The film is framed as if we are looking down and instead of seeing people, watching growth inside of a petri dish. And it fits to some degree because Contagion acts not as a story, but a cold, lab-engineered, sterilized cautionary reminder of human behavior.

***/****

Popular posts from this blog

Hulk vs. The Incredible Hulk vs. The Avengers

There are two movies about the Hulk and one that features the green monster as a major player. One was made in 2003 by an auteur, starring a little-known Aussie. Five years later The Incredible Hulk came out to the same tepid reaction as Ang Lee's Hulk did. This weekend, The Avengers made the Hulk as popular as he has been in a long time. So it comes down to this: Hulk vs. Hulk vs. Hulk. Who will smash whom?

Round One: Acting
Edward Norton outshines Eric Bana as the dual persona of the meek Bruce Banner and the rage-induced Hulk. Eric Bana was given little to do but run and fight and often the audience was just waiting for him to transform. With the Incredible Hulk, Norton's Banner is fully fleshed-out and we are given a reason to care about him. Being allowed to go a little dark with Banner's scenes questioning what is left of his life provided emotional resonance to the character that Hulk lacked. Yet even with the capable performance that Norton gives there was something …

Review: The Salvation

Westerns have never recovered from the oversaturation that killed off viewer interest decades ago, but every now and then a gem pops up. Recent successes like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma and the Coen brothers adaptation of True Grit all did well because they tweaked the genre slightly, but director Kristian Levring goes with an old school approach. A faithful recreation of those revenge Westerns made so popular in the 1970s, The Salvation envelopes many elements of previous Clint Eastwood classics and wraps it into a tidy package.

The Salvation starts in on the central dilemma, joining Jon (Hannibal‘s Mad Mikkelsen) at the train station where he awaits the arrival of his wife and son. Jon and his brother, Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), have lived in the United States long enough to build a hospitable life for their family back in Denmark. This homecoming should be a sweet moment to establish the family important to Jon, but fate plays out…

Review: The Voices

Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) spends his days working the nine-to-five shift at his new job at the Milton Bathtub Factory. Jerry is chipper to the point that he may turn some people off, but he never stops trying to make friends. Friends are something that Jerry could use because the only other conversation he has is with his dog Bosco and his cat Mr. Whiskers. Things are looking up though, Jerry has been tasked with planning the company picnic and he’s asked a girl (Gemma Arterton) out on a date. Jerry is so excited to share the news he rushes home to tell his pets about Fiona. Oddly enough, both Bosco and Mr. Whiskers start talking back.

No need to go back and re-read that last sentence, yes, Ryan Reynolds has pets who talk back to him. His dog, Bosco, is quite affable, however, his cat, Mr. Whiskers, would feel right at home curled in the lap of Blofeld. Unfortunately for everyone around him, it’s the advice of the evil cat that Jerry heeds more often than not. For all of Jerry’s pleasant…