September 14, 2011

Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow

How would daily life change due to a colossal epidemic spread by touch? Soderbergh appears paralyzed by a belated realization that the necessary “social distancing” would make survivors act in ways bad for engaging moviemaking. The healthy would don surgical masks, sit far apart, and spend even more hours on the Internet. But what’s the point of hiring eight Oscar nominees to cover their famous faces while exchanging text messages? So the leads behave as if there is no epidemic, which saps interest.

Nor are issues debated, such as shutting down travel. The hero of 1918’s flu epidemic was American Samoa’s governor, who wouldn’t let any ships land. Good idea or not today?

Soderbergh has directed 22 movies in the 22 years since his Sex, Lies, and Videotape. In contrast, the Coen Brothers have made 15 films in 27 years. (And like the Winkelvoss twins in The Social Network, there are two of them.) Soderbergh peaked in 2000-2001 with Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and Ocean’s Eleven but has dallied eccentrically since. Structurally, Contagion most resembles Traffic, but Soderbergh adapted that from a six-hour British miniseries, so he was working with other people’s ideas.

Soderbergh tries to combine Stanley Kubrick’s intelligence, cold-bloodedness, and stylistic versatility with Woody Allen’s economy of time and money. “I haven’t seen a great benefit in my own work in agonizing over things,” he rationalizes. He should note that Allen’s delightful Midnight in Paris cost about three times as much as his many more forgettable flicks.

Contagion is a weirdly lazy movie. For instance, Soderbergh flashes on-screen the population of each new fever spot Contagion depicts—Hong Kong: 2.1 million; San Francisco: 3.1 million—but rather than look them up on Wikipedia, several of these numbers are simply made up.

Contagion’s second half is remarkably lacking in incident. The main interest comes when the residents of Damon’s upscale Minneapolis suburb loose anarchy upon each other. As critic Manohla Dargis explains in The New York Times, “Once it may have been hard to buy the swift collapse of order that is made palpably real in Contagion, if Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath had not already set the stage.”

But then the Minneapolitans stop looting. Why?

Why not? The filmmakers are busy men who can’t sit around thinking up explanations for you lowly ticket-buyers.



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