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Venice Reviews 2011: Soderbergh's Contagion is Alarmingly Believable Global Disaster Movie

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 3, 2011 at 11:38AM

Love him or hate him, Steven Soderbergh is back. Always willing to take chances and experiment, whether it meant getting kicked off Sony's Brad Pitt-starrer Moneyball or shooting the $60 million Che in two parts in Spanish, or The Good German in old-fashioned black-and-white, Soderbergh makes the movies he wants to see, the audience be damned.
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Thompson on Hollywood

Love him or hate him, Steven Soderbergh is back. Always willing to take chances and experiment, whether it meant getting kicked off Sony's Brad Pitt-starrer Moneyball or shooting the $60 million Che in two parts in Spanish, or The Good German in old-fashioned black-and-white, Soderbergh makes the movies he wants to see, the audience be damned.

Well, he's back in the land of the accessible thriller with Contagion, which threads interlocking narratives from global locations in Asia, Europe and America, all leading back to Patient Zero, Gwenyth Paltrow, who returns from a trip to Hong Kong with a terrible flu that sends her into a seizure followed by sudden death. Her husband Matt Damon can't believe it when first she and then his young son go so quickly. Luckily his daughter has been away and we hang onto these two characters for dear life as the rest of the world heads into enforced isolation, chaos and survival mode. Based on real science, writer Scott Z. Burns has fashioned a reality-based thriller that could easily come true. The casting is superb, from Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard and Kate Winslet as health execs trying to solve and contain the world crisis, to molecular biologist Jennifer Ehle seeking a cure and snaggle-toothed misinformation blogger Jude Law, who gives my profession a very bad name. Much as we liked it, neither Kris Tapley nor I see much in the way of Oscar prospects for the film.

More reviews and the trailer are posted below:

ThePlaylist:

"A-…Of course, it’s not some overblown, effects-laden blockbuster like those films, although it’s positively huge in scope and scale. Instead, the film’s trump card is that Soderbergh keeps everything terrifyingly plausible,..Soderbergh creates a kind of tapestry of illness and panic, and the structure works like a charm, the film moving like a train, crossing continents and characters in a cut—if nothing else, you’re unlikely to ever be bored."

THR:

"A shrewd, unsensationalistic, non-visual effects-dependent global disaster melodrama, Contagion creates a credible picture of how the world might react (and, up to a point, has reacted) in the face of a rapidily spreading mystery disease for which no cure exists. Director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns create unease and simmering tension without going over the top into souped-up suspense or gross-out moments (with one possible exception), which will automatically lessen interest among the lowest-common-denominator crowd."
Thompson on Hollywood


Telegraph:

"its story is alarmingly believable,..Among his strengths is a flair for juggling and sustaining multiple storylines in one film…It's by no means perfect. One could have done without Jude Law as an irritating conspiracy-theory blogger, out to prove the CDC's collusion with pharmaceutical companies. And Contagion can sometimes feel like a series of public health warnings. Still, it's a cut above most Hollywood thrillers, and I'll certainly remember it the next time I use the Tube."

Guardian:

"The film is filled with computer screens, phones, video conference calls, graphics and charts. It is as much about the spread of communication and technology as it is about a virus,..While Law's blogger preaches homeopathic cures – provoking riots outside health food shops – society goes into meltdown and Contagion becomes part zombie movie, part pharmaceutical industry satire,..Contagion is well-assembled and propulsive, though like the virus it loses momentum. Refreshingly, the virus doesn't appear to be a metaphor for consumerism or politics. This is a straight-up movie, serious but, crucially, also slightly silly in the knowing Soderbergh style, always aware that it's a disaster movie, and not a documentary."

This article is related to: Box Office, Directors, Festivals, Genres, Headliners, Reviews, Steven Soderbergh, Thriller


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.