Movie Review: Contagion- An Intriguing Procedural into the Process of Handling a Global Epidemic That Eventually Disperses into a Messy Web of Too Many Non-developed Characters

To give director Steven Soderbergh some credit as a filmmaker he certainly isn’t an amateur. While most of his films, whether they deal with social commentary (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Schizopolis, or Traffic) or historical re-imagination (Che or The Informant), seem contrite there always seems to be a level of enjoyment to bear through his pseudo-intellectualism. His latest thriller known as Contagion is enjoyable yet in an entirely different way than his previous films. It borders on being the serious toned and multi-narrative Traffic combined with a 70s disaster film such as The Towering Inferno. It’s an intriguing mixture to watch despite Soderbergh’s undeniably political bias thrown into the mix that includes a laughable ending. Contagion is quite an unnerving film of a viral epidemic that leads to fear and panic, which seems very real as you’re watching it. It has the delivery and tone of a television procedural but placed into a very serious and globally impacting situation. The film about panic never incites a degree of hysteria to relate what the people in the film might be experiencing, which is to say the film’s strength and weakness. The first half of the film is very convincing and grips you in the right places but as the story unfolds revealing more and more characters the film hits a dangerous point in becoming flat, inarticulate, and a tad slow. At times Contagion is a mesmerizing procedural in a huge “what if” situation that gives us hints as to what happened in the between parts of the film 12 Monkeys while the rest is perhaps Soderbergh’s particular intrigue in having intellectuals seeing over the rationing and control of a citizenry in panic, which is slightly concerning.

The pacing, style, and multi-character universe that is created in Soderbergh’s Contagion is very similar to his commercial and award success Traffic. It possesses the social commentary, the varying character dramas, and even has the color tints of the blue and yellow in varying parts of the film (probably to convey a mood or perhaps using the yellow as an uneasy virus indicator). However, in trying to replicate a previous success Contagion falls short of this supposed expectation in only a couple of elements holding it back from being a one of a kind theater experience. To give Contagion credit it is a more subdued and modern version of the overdramatic virus film Outbreak from the 90s. Soderbergh’s new film values being taken seriously by providing a template of fear on what could occur in our modern globalized world. Yet through its procedural delivery the film begins to lose its initial intrigue in a messy and undeveloped display of multiple characters. We’re thrown into this epidemic of hysteria practically in the beginning and never get the introductory period for any of the characters to learn their own desires, interests, or actual character traits to sympathize with. In other words as the film progresses the absence of initial character introductions leads to our absence of caring. But luckily, for Soderbergh’s sake and ours, his competent history as a director makes Contagion an intriguing experience of releasing us into a probable world of fear, sickness, and death with a tactful hand in careful procedural delivery complimented by good cinematography, clever writing, and, of course, a cast filled with more than established credible actors. In the hands of any other director the film could have been an utter and total laughable failure.

It was entirely surprising to see a private, entrepreneurial scientist look to be completely selfless in Soderbergh’s film while an environmentalist, health freak blogger ends up looking like a selfish profiteering villain. But what’s more surprising is how the presentation of government in films has drastically changed in just 5 years. Now that there is someone suiting of Soderbergh’s own political persuasion running the government it is perfectly reasonable to represent the overarching federal power as a lifesaver and only path to saving the live’s of everyone in emergency situations (let’s not get into how this is quite hypocritical from accusations made from this political persuasion not 10 years ago). But just 5 years ago government was in charge of covering up faulty deals, lying to everyone, and monitoring all the citizens invading their privacy (that latter one is still happening with little complaint from those who originally opposed it). This little observation (that’s all it is: an observation) of how the Hollywood producing power can change the dialogue, the narrative, or the perception of particular entities, peoples, and beliefs at the blink of an eye. Contagion certainly has Soderbergh’s non-changing critique of capitalism and industry, but the government as savior bit wasn’t something vocally interpreted from his kind not even 5 years ago. But the real question about Contagion  still remains: How will Matt Damon feel being part of a scene that drastically supports Second Amendment rights?

Grade: B-

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