Matt Damon

Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh

ContagionSteven Soderbergh directs a cast full of A-list Hollywood celebrities in the recently released Contagion. Playing into fears that to some extent are natural, while at the same time too often stoked of late by government fearmongers, it tells the story of a new virus that spreads quickly and wreaks havoc on the human race. Some very recognizable faces of the Hollywood elite turn splotchy and froth at the mouth.

Comparisons will be made to Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak, but beyond the subject matter and big name actors, they do not much resemble one another. Contagion is either a well-researched and realistic movie about the response to a worldwide infectious disease — especially realistic at the level of government agencies like WHO and CDC — a carefully crafted fraud that makes you think it is, or a mix of the two. There are multiple storylines and it feels, at times, like a documentary. Outbreak is more fanciful and less earnest, investing little effort and less concern in realism but a good deal more in story. All things considered, I would say that Outbreak is the superior work, but Contagion is good in every aspect in which — one gets the feeling — it bothered to put in some elbow grease and is worth a viewing at the theater.

Where did it put this elbow grease? In the shots, in the blocking, in the photography, in the acting, in the editing — everywhere but the script. As one would expect from a Soderbergh film, it is well shot. Everything around the story works at a higher level than what you usually find in theaters nowadays. It has a good solid skeleton, healthy skin, strong muscles, even a brain, but it lacks a heart.

Perhaps it is a bit unfair to say that no elbow grease was spent on the script. I do not mean to give the impression that the screenwriter was incompetent. It was, as I said, either a well-researched flick or a good facsimile, either of which takes some work and skill. However, the type of story it tells, and the time it has to tell it, limit how emotionally invested we can become in the characters, which in turn limits how engrossed we can be in the action, the obstacles, and the resolution.

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MOVIE REVIEW | The Adjustment Bureau Thumbnail

The Adjustment Bureau

Some years ago I bought the first book of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, made it to approximately page 40 and tossed it aside.  The writing was unimpressive, but not so bad that I would have normally opted to leave it unfinished.  The problem for me was that I was not willing to suspend my disbelief so as to accept the author’s premises.  I did not see the point in exploring something so patently untrue, and if his prose was going to be that insipid, with nothing especially arresting about the early part of the plot, then the opportunity cost was too high.  I felt much the same as I watched The Adjustment Bureau, though I did sit through until the end.

In this film’s particular world, the human race has been guided through the centuries, off and on, by an entity referred to as The Chairman who has in his employ a number of beings, human in appearance, with extraordinary powers.  The Chairman took the human race from barbaric tribalism to the height of the Roman Empire before deciding to allow us to make our decisions for ourselves.  What followed were the Dark Ages, so this benevolent dictator assumed control once more and guided us through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment up to about 1910, whereupon we were given one more chance to be free.  We produced WWI, The Great Depression, WWII and brought the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust, so we lost our freedom yet again, presumably for good this time.

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