Contagion

contagion

CONTAGION is a disaster movie with a difference: it’s smart. Since it’s also about something beyond wicked this way surely coming, the 2011 globe-hopping—and decimating—thriller puts its chill factor into the realm of cold dead hand reality. How many of you know what a ‘fomite’ is? Well, you’re wearing and touching them all day long, and they can help kill you if the wrong bug hitches a ride with them. “It’s a bad day to be a rhesus monkey.”

A bat, a pig, a snack and a handshake lead to The Cough Heard Round the World, which starts with high spirits in a Hong Kong casino and jets its way to other parts of the map with ease, revealing itself as a lightning-fast, mutating illness  with a seemingly limitless capacity to spread. High mortality. Officials and facilities are overwhelmed, conspiracy theories arise, valor and co-operation cross paths with self-preservation and hypocrisy. Looting erupts, troops deployed as freedom bangs into chaos. Doctors race, panic ensues, society fractures.

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The plague is a major—and 100% believable— drag for the cast of characters, but fortunately for audiences the viral host is the constantly venturesome, super-skilled director Steven Soderbergh. He cuts some of the smartest, leanest and most challenging of thrillers, equally adept with either light, fun material or the full-on darker type as with this planet-engulfing epic. As ever, he was his own cinematographer. With the assist of top-rank editor Stephen Mirrione (Traffic, The Revenant, Birdman) Soderbergh balances multiple propulsive, interconnected storylines within the overall narrative, keeping exposition clear and action moving.

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Blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.” (OUCH)  Written by Scott Z. Burns (The Informant!), eschewing melodramatic hysterics or phony plot devices, the clock-precise progression of events in the screenplay allows for the human confusion and tragedy elements to complement rather than intrude and unbalance the framing. The time-race dilemma is underlined with a danger-throbbing music score from Cliff Martinez, his 10th collaboration with the director. Like Jerry Goldsmith’s neat soundtrack from the fave 1965 oldie about bio-doom, The Satan Bug, Martinez’ sounds are appropriately clinical and remorseless, suggesting invasive alien assault to just the right degree without overplaying it.

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Dramatically sound, technically adroit, scientifically accurate, critically applauded, commercially successful, the $60,000,000 germinated spread among an affected audience to the mark of $135,500,000. Filmed in Hong Kong, Atlanta, Geneva, Casablanca, London, San Francisco, Chicago and several other locales in Illinois.

Doing ace, project-focused work among the victims and survivors: Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Ehle, Bryan Cranston, Chin Han, Elliott Gould, John Hawkes, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Sanaa Lathan, Demetri Martin. 1995s Outbreak was pretty good; this is much better.

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Looming pandemic too gloomy a topic? Cheer up, it’s quite possible you won’t have a chance to cough to death before our science-scoffing ‘experts’ in high office and/or uniforms get us vaporized in order to display ‘resolve’ (result meets resolution). Perhaps the water will run out first? Fresh water, that is, since life-free, goop-clogged salt water will be readily available. Bets? Let’s have a group pray, with certain exclusions, of course, and be sure to come packin’. Couldn’t happen to a more destructive and deserving pest.

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