Film Review: Steven Soderbergh’s Riveting ‘Contagion’ With Matt Damon

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CHICAGO – A few weeks ago saw the release of the R-rated “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” a gore-free creature feature that was given the MPAA stamp of 17-plus due to “pervasive scariness.” This week sees the PG-13-rated “Contagion,” a film SO much more pervasively scary than the movie about goblins in a distant mansion because, well, it’s about the fact that the world is pervasively scary. When you’re done seeing Steven Soderbergh’s accomplished thriller, as you take the CTA or, God forbid, get on a plane or train, think about how many times you touch your face or common areas. And then try not to cry. Oscarman rating: 4.5/5.0
Rating: 4.5/5.0

One of our most versatile directors has turned his gaze to the what-if scenarios presented by each new health scare. Swine Flu, H1N1, West Nile. Every time that a new disease turns up somewhere in the world, we all ask ourselves those questions – Is this the one? The one that will be more than just a headline? The one that will kill someone I know? The one that will change the world? “Contagion” features an all-star cast, one of our best directors, and an excellent screenwriter turning those questions into things of realistic fiction. Soderbergh’s riveting film, much of which was shot in Chicago, is fictional…for now.

StarRead Brian Tallerico’s full review of “Contagion” in our reviews section.

Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Informant!”) attempt to tell an international story with multiple characters in relatively-broad strokes. It is an arguably cold film that doesn’t allow much time for character development by virtue of how many stories it’s trying to tell simultaneously. It’s also a film paced like it’s about a speeding train. When we’re talking about a disease that could wipe out entire cities, there’s little time for chit-chat. “Contagion” is an incredibly packed feature, running less than two hours but as packed with incredible actors and subplots as an Irwin Allen disaster pic, and yet Soderbergh (with some of the best editing of the year from Oscar-winner Stephen Mirrione) never lets it get away from him. We always care. We’re always interested. We’re always terrified.

If you really break down “Contagion” on a character level, it does offer a “one of each” mentality to screenwriting. There’s the doctor, writer, infected, widowed, leader, bureaucrat, savior, victim, etc. Yet each of the multiple arcs feels essential to the fabric of the piece, which is one of its greatest accomplishments. Often in films as broad as this one, it’s easy for the viewer to pick a favorite arc or at least choose one that they wish occupied less screen time. “Contagion” is never less than riveting, perfectly balancing multiple characters and arcs from minute one to its spectacular final scene.

StarContinue reading for Brian Tallerico’s full “Contagion” review.

“Contagion” stars Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle, Bryan Cranston, John Hawkes, Sanaa Lathan, Enrico Colantoni, and Gwyneth Paltrow. It was written by Scott Z. Burns and directed by Steven Soderbergh. It is rated PG-13 and opens on September 9th, 2011.

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

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