Contagion (USA/UAE, 2011)

contagion_ver8_xlgDirected by: Steven Soderbergh. I’ve been meaning to see this one for a while. What a good movie! And goddammit, what an interesting guy Steven Soderbergh turned out to be. I started following him when I was a kid and I saw Out of Sight and fell in love with it. I kind of fell out of love with those stupid Ocean’s 11 movies. But doing a quick survey at the length and breadth of his work, not to mention the singularly fascinating event of his recent retirement, it’s obvious that he’s one of those guys that we all might still be talking about 50 years from now. His movies seem to have a common look and feel to them, with some caveats, one being that The Good German looked and felt more like a George Clooney movie to me (a common mistake, I’m sure), another being that there seems to be a pretty clear distinction between the visual language of his films based on the way he uses film versus the RED cam, another being that I haven’t seen his early stuff (including the famous Sex, Lies and Videotape, so shame on me). But he definitely seems to be a guy who likes to do whatever the fuck he wants—a pet project followed by a Hollywood hit, and hopefully with some crossover in between (I rate him with Linklater in this regard, but I like Soderbergh a lot better). This movie is basically one of those—a great movie that actually made money. It fits all the criteria for a mainstream, palatable, formula thriller, but without feeling like it’s pandering to the formula too much, and without insulting the viewer’s intelligence by refusing to deal with the subject matter in an interesting way. The movie takes a topic that could easily spin towards a Deep Impact-type of social breakdown disaster movie direction and veers it towards a social commentary upon the terrifyingly fragile nature of our interconnected, globalized, commercial-driven world. It doesn’t feel heady, it doesn’t preach, it’s very intelligent, it’s very sober. It’s actually very, very sober and distant in a lot of the shots, the composition choices, AND YET, somehow it feels so damn intimate. The film grapples with a huge cast (as witnessed in the poster above) without sacrificing any of the beating heart required to make the film function. There’s a happy ending of sorts, but it feels fairly well-earned, mostly because in this kind of thing, a sad ending would be even more manipulative and uninteresting than a relatively upbeat resolution. And it is relative—it’s not a cheaply-won resolution. They dodge the bullet this time, but it’s obvious (very obvious at the final quick reveal) that unless the entire world system sorts its shit out, this could totally, totally happen again. It’s actually a bit astonishing that something this intelligent could be made, could be funded, could be advertised as well as it was (and I remember those wall-sized posters at the time, littering the entire neighborhood), and be as successful as it was (again, see the poster full of celebrity headshots above). However it happened, this is a really compelling piece of cinema, and a thoughtful hypothetical exploration into the pitfalls of our current food system. Having just read a compelling book about the global food system, I couldn’t figure out if this film was best considered as a piece of speculative science fiction, a political activism movie, or a documentary about the flaws in global agriculture. On a more straightforward note, this movie is full of great acting, including some standout stuff from Laurence Fishburne and John Hawkes. I’ll definitely be checking out Steven’s filmography, especially now that it’s been tragically cut short, and reading up about his personal side, and his really interesting, frank opinion pieces.

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3 responses to “Contagion (USA/UAE, 2011)

  1. Pingback: World War Z (USA/UK, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Side Effects (USA, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2013 | Offhand Reviews·

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