Contagion (Steven Soderbergh, 2011): USA

Reviewed by William Conlin. Viewed at Camino Real Cinema in Santa Barbara.

Chaos theory states that a butterfly can flap it’s wings in Asia and that will cause two million people to die in The United States. That idea hits extremely close to home in Steven Soderbergh’s new thriller Contagion. You may not understand what that means from this review but see the film and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Contagion deals with the effects of a global pandemic. After a corporate executive (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets sick and dies from an unrecognized form of flu the entire world braces for the effects of the easily spread disease while researchers race to find a vaccine. Additionally, the immune begin to struggle with the death that now surrounds them every day. Featuring an all-star ensemble, Contagion is a skillfully crafted example of hyperlink cinema at it’s best.

My first observation when watching this film is that I could tell it was Soderbergh without even seeing the credits. His signature style of montage pops up throughout the film and strongly adds to the suspense of the story. Much like other Soderbergh films, Contagion begins in medias res and only gives you the final piece of the puzzle at the end of your exhaustive journey. Though it runs around 2 hours, the films throws so much information your way it feels like you’ve been in the theater all day.

As with most Soderbergh work, the cast is perfectly placed with a few standout performances. In Contagion, I would argue that Jude Law’s turn as sociopathic blogger and Matt Damon’s subtle portrayal of a grieving husband and protective father stand out the most. That said, the supporting cast of Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishbourne, Jennifer Ehle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Dimitri Martin, Elliot Gould and Marion Cotillard make this a major contender for this year’s Screen Actors Guild Ensemble Award.

Additionally, one of the most chilling aspects of Contagion is Cliff Martinez’s haunting score. Whenever Soderbergh employs his montage skills the score takes over and sets the mood for the triumph or tragedy that is about to come. Visually, the cinematography of Contagion separates the stark reality of the public (blue) with the comfortable nature of the elite (yellow). With subtle political undertones, Contagion manages to kill multiple birds with one stone.

I would strongly warn anyone before watching this film to bring a bottle of hand sanitizer and consider not ordering popcorn. Also, while watching this in a movie theater try not to get scared when somebody around you coughs… it’s not 3D, it’s not surround sound, but it sure is scary.

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