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“Contagion” – Early Review (POSITIVE)

September 7, 2011

People will fear their hands after this movie. Coughing will be the sound of sheer terror to most people, after seeing this movie. People will clench & cover their eyes when they see this movie. It’s the horror movie where the horror could actually happen, and it might one day. Steven Soderbergh returns with another ensemble motion picture discussing a topic that is…well topical, a strong virus that could be as devastating as the Black Plague or the Spanish Flu of 1918. The movie as a whole, nerving as it might be, is a great ‘what if’ tale.

This diseased thriller is set, everywhere. As it tells the story about a super virus that’s rapidly spreading at an extraordinary rate, starting in Hong Kong when a business woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) comes into contact with the virus, then bringing it all the way over to the states, passing it along to others. People are nervous as it kills more and more each day. The pros at the CDC (Center for Disease Control) are trying to keep it quiet till they’ve figured the virus out, but like a virus, rumors spread fast. People become scared and are subjected to terrible things. As National Security increases, people become more and more savaged; raiding homes & stores, people fighting in the streets over medicine, quarantines all around. People aren’t allowed into locations without having their barcode bracelets scanned, indicating that they’re not sick. In a nutshell this movie gives us an open look at what would happen to the world of today if the Black Plague had returned, and it’s not a pretty picture.

Soderbergh gave us an interwoven look of drug trafficking in his Oscar winner “Traffic”; he does the same in this film, only now we’re focusing on disease. He manages to tell a multi-layered story in a very coherent manner. The pacing is mellow, compared to how it’s perceived in the previews; it’s quite calm, which is refreshing. The calm pacing helps the eeriness and intensity the audience will be feeling. The cast is solid, everyone leads some strong/endearing performances.  Everyone seemed to get enough screen time to tell their side of the story, their experiences, etc. There’s a clever approach within every scene change that takes place in a new location on the planet we get the population number of that location, showing us the gravity of the situation when these places are hit.

The opening will automatically catch your attention as we hear a cough. The eerie sound of the cough is orchestrated all throughout the movie. The advanced screening I attended was a packed house; I’ve never heard so many gasps when a main character or a background extra started coughing. People in the theater were coughing, some felt a bit unease. I love when a movie can have that affect on people, that shows you that the director is doing something right.

Director, Steven Soderbergh, has been well known for shooting his films on the RED One, the cinematography in this movie is some of the best I’ve seen this year. The haunting shots of empty restaurants, airport terminals, villages, towns, cities, grocery stores, you get this certain perspective and understanding, “Wow, this could happen.” It’s a scary thought, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked, just look at history. The sickly color pallet of yellows & greens play well for the movies overall look & feel, Steven is a masterful cinematographer. The choice of a techno score adds a certain third character to the movie, there are these hums/buzzes indicating the movement of the virus, it sent chills down my spine, great work to composer Cliff Martinez.

I can’t seem to come up with any negatives, a few friends of mine who attended the screening with me, complained that there wasn’t much development on the characters. To me, I don’t think that was a problem, sure their were a few underdeveloped plot points about the people themselves, mostly with Matt Damon & Paltrow’s relationship, but I think it plays to the films advantage. The movie was done in clear realistic tone, this is what could happen. We experienced craziness of the H1N1 outbreak, but that was just a taste compared to what this movie was offering. It’s a well-constructed cautionary tale.

GRADE: A-

Special Thanks to Ellie Petschek & Harriet Petschek for their key input on the movie, and for attending the screening.

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