Saturday, September 10, 2011

Steven Soderbergh: Conflux of Genre and Humanity (Contagion)

Jude Law, Contagion, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2011.

In his roundabout of each and every cinematic genre and sub-genre, the immensely prolific and diverse Steven Soderbergh has finally come to the epidemic film, a usually overlooked but important thriller sub-genre which seems more vital than ever now. Barry Levinson's Outbreak is probably the best remembered, and it was definitely good in its own entertaining way. What Soderbergh has accomplished here is a meticulous, curiously immersive experience which proves to be one of his very best films.

The visual and narrative structures are classically Soderberghian, with cold distant hues birthing the convergent lives of a culturally diverse group of people. Their involvement in a modern plague plays out with a particular  emphasis on their vulnerabilities and the bureaucratic mechanisms which hold them in its grasp. This calls to mind Soderbergh's masterful Traffic (2000) in all of its complexly mined glories.

An outstanding cast is balanced out by Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne,  Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle, Bryan Cranston, Elliot Gould, Gwyneth Paltrow, Demetri Martin, Sanaa Lathan and John Hawkes, all at their best, making up one of the most incredible ensembles of the year. Scribe Scott Z. Burns' screenplay is trenchant and to the point, Soderbergh's control of the camera has never been more meticulous in design and delineation, and Cliff Martinez delivers yet another wonderfully driven score.

From the opening of a cough over black, to the ending which brings the simple yet invigorating structure full circle, Soderbergh has us under his spell. Like all great films, Contagion makes us think as it entertains us. Its powers of artistic persuasion only remind us of the greatness of Soderbergh's voice, and his place as one of our country's great cinematic visionaries.

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