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Contagion (2011)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A master class from a master."
5 stars

Before "Contagion" is anything else, itís a master class in filmmaking ó shooting, editing, making a movie move.

On the surface, itís a disaster film of the sort weíve seen before ó a viral-epidemic thriller ó but you could conceivably not care about anything that happens in the movie and still find yourself jazzed by its rhythms, its ambiance of high intelligence. In just over 100 minutes it takes us from the first, mystifying contact with a deadly virus to a satisfying resolution, spanning the better part of a year. And here, the scariest thing isnít the virus itself, but the widespread reaction to it. People panic; they loot and commit murder. Contagion argues for the importance of cooler heads prevailing, but it acknowledges that cool heads are in short supply in America.

Conspiracy theorists will likely hate Contagion, because it tells us that government agencies have our best interests at heart, and it puts any dissent into the mouth of a rather sleazy blogger (Jude Law) who, it seems, may be stirring up skepticism for his own gain. Letís allow that government people are as corruptible and flawed as anyone else, that bureaucracies often obstruct, and that complex systems dealing with large populations donít and canít have the personal touch we so often demand in times of crisis. By and large, the people in Contagion trying to deal with the outbreak do the best they can, sometimes throwing their own bodies into the breach, their own health on the line. They may be motivated as much because their professional asses are at stake as because they care for their fellow man. Itís a comforting narrative, ultimately, because it reminds us that even those who are protected, whose families are protected, are in human contact with those who are vulnerable. The unstressed irony of the movie is that this same contact is what is killing people.

Contagion was directed by Steven Soderbergh, who studs the movie with stars (Matt Damon as a grieving widower, Kate Winslet as an epidemic investigator, Laurence Fishburne as at doctor at the CDC, Marion Cotillard as a doctor with the World Health Organization) but gives none of them any big moments. The story skips from continent to continent, but Soderbergh always keeps us comfortably oriented. Itís a highly compact and factual movie: no shot calls attention to itself (Soderbergh photographed it himself), the editing (by Stephen Mirrione) moves at a healthy jog, not a frantic sprint. Contagion goes fast but takes its time when the audience needs to understand something. I was so absorbed that I forgot entirely about an entire character and her storyline, although this narrative thread, with Marion Cotillard kidnapped and held in a Hong Kong village until a vaccine is found, feels a bit out of step with the rest of the film.

Aided by a heartbeat-elevating score by Cliff Martinez, Soderbergh keeps the tension up while avoiding any obvious turning of the screws. Contagion is more frightening for being rather matter-of-fact. It pits rationalism against randomness ó the scientists trying to figure out the virus, which is mutating. Itís also realistic about how long it would take before order would be restored ó people are dying everywhere, society is breaking down, and weíre repeatedly told what the timetable would be on finding a cure, developing it, testing it, getting it approved, mass-manufacturing it: weeks, months. Hurry up and wait, indeed. In the end, Contagion is not quite as credulous about government aid as it first appears: there is still and will always be fraud, corruption, preferential treatment. But there will also always be good people everywhere who step up and do whatís needed despite official regulations. We saw it on and directly after 9/11, and weíve all seen it personally on a regular basis, people who donít have to help you and might get in trouble for it but do anyway.

For all the crap we deal with and can put each other through, "Contagion" ends up saying that maybe weíre worth saving after all.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20772&reviewer=416
originally posted: 09/11/11 17:05:17
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell chilling be sure to scrub your hands 4 stars
7/30/13 mr.mike Good, but its low-key style may underwhelm some viewers. 4 stars
12/27/12 Nope Amazing film! Expertly executed. 5 stars
6/16/12 Ady boy Hey Viola, wherever you are, I AGREE WITH YOU. 4 stars
5/20/12 Viola Someone explain the acceptance of Paltrow, I think she's repulsive. 4 stars
4/05/12 Matt Damon What was found in Gwyneth Paltrow's head. I know...NOTHING. 4 stars
1/14/12 Marty some stars miscast. too many characters to keep interest. bore 3 stars
1/13/12 GO TEAM What's important is..Paltrow dies early in the film and it goes on w/o her. YES!. 4 stars
9/12/11 Carol Miles Any movie that kills off Gwyneth Paltrow has my seal of approval. 5 stars
9/11/11 Jeff Wilder Effective. Soderbergh's direction keeps the tension going. More to the point than Outbreak. 4 stars
9/11/11 Rhys Good 1st 45 min. then too slow. Needed some ACTION that stars pay check took from budget. 3 stars
9/10/11 Darkstar Really good, smart thriller. 4 stars
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  09-Sep-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 03-Jan-2012


  DVD: 03-Jan-2012

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