The Reel Deal
A Reel Deal Film Review
Film Insight by Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5
“A DISASTER FILM FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T LIKE DISASTER FILMS”
Steven Soderberg has said he’s nearing the end of his career as a filmmaker. He has a few more films he wants to make and then he’s done–retiring at age 51, in 2014. He says he wants to go into painting–though my guess is he’ll be back to making films before he’s 60. Any film lover, should hope I’m right. Soderbergh is a true master and to lose his brilliance would be a devastating loss to contemporary cinema (when there are already few too many true auteurs left who consistently deliver in this money-hungry, fame-obsessed, mush-brained Hollywood climate).
Soderbergh has been churning out quality films constantly for the last couple decades, beginning with 1989′s Sex, Lies and Videotape. Since 1989 he’s directed 22 movies, which means he’s averaged a film a year (a feat few directors that aren’t named Woody Allen are able to accomplish while still making top-notch material). What I find most interesting about Soderbergh is that his films range in style and subject and look and feel and budget and production and just about everything else–everything except quality.
He’s a chameleon director, versatile. He can adapt to what a movie needs him to be. This makes his films have less of a personal flare certainly–you don’t see a Soderberg film and necessarily know it’s a Soderberg as with many of the fellow auteurs of his generation. “The fact that I’m not an identifiable brand is very freeing,” the filmmaker has explained in the past, “because people get tired of brands and they switch brands.” And yet, even if he doesn’t have what one might call a personal style or an identifiable brand, his films have one thing in common: whether or not they’re amazing, or succeed 100% at what they’re trying to do, they’re always interesting.
Case in point: Contagion. Is it a perfect film? No, probably not. But it is unlike any film I’ve ever seen. It is a disaster film that would rather be an art film; a disaster film whose disaster, a contagious disease, isn’t as easy to cinematically depict as an asteroid, or a volcano, or a tsunami, or an alien invasion; a disaster film for people who don’t like disaster films. Perhaps the most stunning feature of the film is its restraint. It never rushes to a payoff, instead it builds slowly and steadily. One almost can’t tell if he’s covering too many stories (with his incredible ensemble cast), or too few. The film doesn’t just follow a couple of heroes as is the Hollywood norm, but finds some real human drama (albeit filmed from a very clinical and scientific standpoint, and with little regard for the overwrought emotion one might expect from a disaster film). It shows people as they are–being heroic, sure, but also being foolish, making mistakes, not knowing what to do, changing their minds, coping. In other words: being human (in the face of an inhuman disaster: a nameless, faceless microscopic killer).
There have been complaints that Soderbergh doesn’t delve enough into the individual characters’ lives to allow them to come off full-bodied and real. I disagree wholeheartedly. In fact, I can’t disagree enough. I think we’re so innoculated by the Hollywood standard that we expect hyperreality in our movies. We expect more real than real, we expect melodrama, and we expect to focus on only a few characters (the “main” characters), and we expect everything to tie up neatly. That isn’t reality, that is a fake reality. Whereas Steven Spielberg or James Cameron, or their much shittier disciples Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich, would milk each scene for as much action and as much sentimentality as could be mustered, Soderbergh won’t have any of that. He not only shies away from such unreality, he obviously chooses to take a stand against it, and thus gives the film a very clinical, inhuman feel. And yet in its supposed inhumanness, I think it is more real–and more human and humane–than the falsities of a normal Hollywood blockbuster that works out like clockwork and fulfills all its genre duties. What Soderbergh does is give us glimpses into a whole slew possible scenarios, of individual stories that could conceivably arise from the outbreak of just such a contagion. This makes the film surprisingly original (though it seems so simple, it should have been done before).
Some stories, to the chagrin of many critics, go nowhere; some end quickly; some take drastic twists and turns. Only one, in my estimation, feels a little bit forced and uneven, but I’ll leave the viewer to judge whether or not they agree. My only suggestion to someone questioning whether or not they should see this film is: what are you expecting? If you want to see a big budget disaster film with lots of action set pieces and global catastrophe, you may be disappointed (though admittedly you are just as likely to not be disappointed). If, on the other hand, you want an honest, artful and scientific depiction of a disastrous situation, there are few films better than this in that regard.
Contagion is a film directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns. It stars Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow and Marion Cotillard. A thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with the outbreak.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Warner Brothers
Design by Jillian Mercado
Press Photo from Contagion, Photography Courtesy of Warner Brothers