Sunday, September 18, 2011


Matt Damon in "Contagion"
***1/2 out of ****

Okay, this is my third review blog post and it is of a movie that had a great line spoken by Elliot Gould: "Blogging isn't journalism. It's graffiti with punctuation."

Disease is scary. While watching the pandemic thriller, "Contagion", I found myself squirming with discomfort in my seat as I was hyper-aware of how many people cough an sneezed in the theater. Though they could have been doing so out of a psychological reaction to how realistically threatening this movie felt. I don't go to the movies to feel bad, so why did I have to see this one? Well I see everything Steven Soderbergh directs. I'm a fan. I also can feel reassured that he wouldn't make a film like this to give anyone a sense of despair. He also wouldn't make a film about such an important concept without making it informative. Soderbergh an writer Scott Z. Burns avoid cheap thrills and produce a gripping piece of cinema where we as an audience are shown the spread of a disease and the web of separate characters dealing with it's terrifying effects. We see experts from the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization speaking unapologetically like smart people with no one to put their statements in laymans terms.
Beaks: It’s a procedural where there’s a lot of information flying at the audience, a lot of jargon that we don’t understand, but there is something thrilling… Soderbergh: The context. You know they know what they are talking about. Soderbergh discusses his no-nonsense approach to filmmaking and other fascinating movie nerd topics here.

The ultra-realism is only hindered by the use of an all-star cast. All of these people do their job quite well but they bring with them a reputation as a famous person. Early in the film when we see Gwyneth Paltrow's character getting a graphic autopsy there is a feeling of comfort knowing that Paltrow, the actress, is alive and well. If an unknown actress were playing this movie's tragically diseased wife and mother, we would no doubt feel more horrified when we can only associate that face with the film we are watching. Soderbergh joked that he has made an Irwin Allen picture. In other words, a disaster film with an all-star cast. I'm not going to stress my criticism here because I don't think you can sell a realistic movie about disease without star-power on board.

Roger Ebert points out in his review that Jude Law's character is the only weak ingredient to this film. I am persuaded to agree. Law plays a freelance blogger journalist who has followed the pandemic from the beginning and is crusading against the CDC's reaction to it.. This is a movie that displays all of it's main characters with empathy understanding their thoughts and feelings so we can understand everything from their angle. Law is the exception here.  Jude Law's undeniably intense screen presence doesn't outweigh the fact he is the only one of the principle characters whose motives are ambiguous. If Law's character is someone for whom we are meant to feel skeptical of, his part should be reduced to a minor character seen through the eyes of the trustworthy main characters. Seeing the world of the story through this character's eyes and not knowing what he wants breaks the movies structure.

I am always fascinated by Soderbergh's abilities as an artist to continue moving. He seems to be in a period of avoiding sensationalism. His two part epic on Che Guevara was such a straight-forward history lesson, I don't think I would ever recommend it to someone who wanted to be entertained. His eye as a digital filmmaker in recent years has me very impressed.

Somehow his work here almost reminded me of a made for HBO or Showtime movie since that seems to be the current source of dialogue-driven entertainment for a more thoughtful audience. But it's in theaters. It's even on IMAX. There really is a payoff to seeing a movie like this on a big screen. There is a sense of atmosphere and strength you can't get even when viewing a nice HD screen.

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