Thursday, April 5, 2012

Contagion. A-

I've certainly admired and been entertained by the movies of Steven Soderbergh. But has he really made a great film? Out of Sight and The Limey are fantastic, but Traffic is overrated, and Erin Brockovich is simply not very good. The Good German is just an homage, hardly good on its own terms, while Solaris is nothing but a remake of a classic. The Ocean's movies are merely flashy entertainment (with the first one being the only good movie in the series). The Informant was smart and witty, but not one of Soderbergh's best. As for his smaller, "artistic" films, well, they're essentially experiments, interesting but not particularly good or memorable. Soderbergh has tremendous appeal for film buffs because of the way he's put his mark on big studio pictures while also working on low budget Independent projects. He's extremely prolific and often works as director, cinematographer, and editor (he uses pseudonyms for the latter two) for his films. Soderbergh's career, which was supposed to be over by now, has recently gotten better though. In January he released Haywire. I didn't see it, but it's good to seem him doing an action movie. And then last September Contagion arrived. Compared to all his other films, this might just be his finest piece of work. It's an enormously ambitious work that only a skilled filmmaker like Soderbergh could pull off. Arguably the best virus movie ever, Contagion skillfully uses a major all star cast (Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, and Marion Cotillard) that really jams pack this pretty short (about 100 minutes) film. Not a minute is wasted. Usually these big ensemble pieces have an epic sprawl to them, but Contagion is tightly managed. It gives all the characters plenty of time without having very much of it to do so. I think one of the reason it works so well is that with the exception of the Matt Damon storyline, the film is mainly focused on science and procedure. Melodrama takes a seat to the things that really matter, that produce a film about as real as it gets without being overtly graphic (though the scene involving an operation on Paltrow came close to crossing the boundaries of the PG-13 rating). Contagion doesn't come across as terribly preachy despite its pretty obvious criticisms of world germ organizations. Soderbergh seems more concerned with showing what would happen if, say, the swine flu from 2009 became an epidemic. The result is his most gripping, stylish, and interesting picture to date.

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