Steven Soderbergh has always been a master filmmaker, creating films that not only look great but make the audience think too (ok, maybe not the Ocean’s trilogy…). His latest films, although critically successful, have had a harder time generating commercial success and have had difficulty reaching a wider audience. But Soderbergh’s newest film, Contagion, is turning out to be his most commercially successful film to date. After all, people love a good disaster flick.

Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) comes home to Minneapolis from a business trip to Hong Kong with what she thinks is just a simple bug or virus. It turns out to be something much worse… Soon the deadly disease is spreading fast and taking lives all over the globe. And as one character says: “It’s figuring us out faster than we’re figuring it out”.

Like Soderbergh’s other film, Traffic, this film also uses an ensemble cast and it works equally well here. Matt Damon is brill (I’m biased I know, but shut up) as Mitch Emhoff, Beth’s husband and a family man trying to do everything he can to keep him and his family alive.  And here’s another look to add to The Damon collection:

In fact, the whole ensemble cast is excellent – the standouts being Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes, Elliot Gould (and comedian Demetri Martin is also there for some weird reason…).

The one person who really distracts though is Jude Law as Alan Krumwiede, a blogger stirring fear and panic across the nation…complete with a really bad Australian accent. Basically he’s just a caricature – you can pretty much tell what his motives are just by looking at him. I’m not sure if writer Scott Z. Burns or Soderbergh intended it to be that way or if it was Law’s idea to play him like that. Either way, he doesn’t work as a believable human being.

As with all Soderbergh films it is beautifully shot and very, very stylish in parts…as well as suitably cold and clinical at other times. And the story is also good but seems somehow…incomplete. Because it’s such a huge cast and Steven Soderbergh is showing the outbreak from all perspectives (official figures trying to work out what to do and the scared public trying to survive) the film seems to run out of time to get the whole plot in and it ends, almost suddenly. Even though every one of the major cast is given equal screentime, it seems like there is more of the story left to tell.

This many perspectives idea isn’t necessarily a bad thing – imagine the story if it focused on just one family and how dull it would be (and which we’ve seen so many times before – compared to something multi-angled like this which we’ve rarely seen). Soderbergh and Burns have definitely achieved something great with Contagion, but it does feel like there’s room for many, many sequels. Not that they’ll do any.

A chilly ensemble piece that has resonance with our health obsessed world, you’ll enjoy watching it, but afterwards you’ll almost certainly be careful of what you’re touching…


~ by square-eyed-geek on November 11, 2011.

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