a film by Steven Soderbergh

With Steven Soderbergh, the director of disambiguation, behind the camera (and in the editing room) it should come as no surprise that Contagion is one damn good-looking movie. Filmed in a style that effortlessly combines Soderbergh's visually edgy ferocity as seen in films such as Traffic and The Limey and the director's more laconic melancholia seen in his remake of Solaris and the infamously intriguing The Girlfriend Experience, this film, about pandemic paranoia, plays out like a pitch perfect mélange of frenetic Sam Fullerism and the eager winsomeness hidden in the depths of Tarkovsky, all with the pillowy pulchritude of Ozu running throughout. Like I said, one damn good-looking movie.

The globe-hopping, actor-hopping (like in the director's Traffic, the film's slew of famous cast members actually intertwine very little with each other) story that Soderbergh boldly hands us is the story of a biological outbreak that threatens to destroy all human life on the planet. With origins unknown (well, until the end that is) this epidemic begins small enough by hitting just a handful of not-so-random people (as the trailer and poster more than allude to, first amongst the casualties is Gwyneth Paltrow giving her seven cents worth) and grows, epidemic-like (duh), into a full-blown worldwide emergency. Soderbergh takes this pandemic and uses it to show the fears of a panicked public as well as the opportunism and political self-servedness of those in the so-called know. Hell, even Homeland Security gets in on the mix (duh).

Making their own contributions to Soderbergh's steady-handed Grand Guignol are Laurence Fishburne as the semi-benevolent head of the politicized CDC, Matt Damon as the seemingly immune, tenderized husband of Paltrow's fateful world traveler, Jude Law as a conspiracy-theory nutjob blogger out to make money from the tragedy, Marion Cotillard as a doctor in the wrong place at the right time (or is that the right place at the wrong time?) and Kate Winslet as an epidemic soothsayer of sorts who must prove to the political powers that their most important job is to contain the virus and save lives (surprisingly, she does not succeed).

At first sight, Soderbergh's high-falutin' viral thriller may seem to take a somewhat lackadaisical approach to assessing the problem of a possible world-devouring super virus (Behold! The Mighty Galactus has arrived!! Bow at my might, but not too frantically.). Not to say there is not the proverbial panic in the streets up there on the big big screen, but Soderbergh's approach seems just as disconnected and despondent as it is restless and anxious. This of course, upon second sight, leads one to read the film as an existential take on the idea of total genocidal annihilation, which keeps with Soderbergh's auterial style of acerbically tilting at windmills. Reading the film as thus, and why the Hell shouldn't we be reading the film as thus, Contagion, with its frantic foibles and woebegone worries, is a disarmingly stellar film that, judging from my initial indifference, perhaps takes more than a first thought to totally comprehend, and therefore, totally appreciate. Good thing that. [09/17/11]