Contagion (2011)

My love/hate relationship with Steven Soderbergh continues. This film has a lot of elements working in its favor but also some that don’t. I’ll start with the positives. The script here is well written, with a decent amount of dialogue and situations seeming competently researched and intelligently presented. The music fits the atmosphere nicely, with a techno sensibility that fit the ‘procedural’ nature of a good deal of the material. The diverse cast all ‘step up’, treating the story seriously and, largely, reacting as their real-life versions probably would in the desperate and frustrating circumstances shown. Kate Winslet, Matt Damon and Laurence Fishburne, in particular, stood out with naturalistic performances whenever they were on-screen. One aspect I appreciated was the almost sinister lingering of the camera on surfaces or objects that people touch, especially in the effective opening montage as the mysterious MEV1 microbe ‘leap frogs’ about the planet. On the other hand, two elements just didn’t work for me. In my recent review of Martha Marcy May Marlene, I effortlessly praised the use of natural lighting. But in that film, the majority of the examples took place outdoors. Soderbergh uses a similar lighting scheme, only the majority of the scenes take place indoors. And indoors, actual natural light is scarce…and here, it shows. Badly. Some scenes are so underlit that characters features, and therefore performances, are lost in the shadows to the point of distraction…at least for me. I’ve had similar complaints about previous Soderbergh films. I understand, to a degree, the attempt at realism but there does come a point where it seems either lazy or amateurish…if not both. The other complaint I have is the sheer number of Main Characters who are all scattered over the globe. As a result of trying to follow all the varying character stories, I found the film, in parts, seemed to meander, with at least one character (Marion Cotillards) seemingly set adrift without a deserved denoument…despite a compelling lead-up. Having said that, I do have to acknowledge that the demonstrated logistics of a mass quarantine/vaccination are examined nicely, accented with some believable scenes of mob-like pandemonium as fear and desperation fuel a societal near-collapse. Truthfully, I could take or leave this flick. It’s worth a look but I can’t give it stratospherically high praise. I guess that it DID have some kind of an effect on me…now I want to go wash my hands.


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