Steven Soderbergh

Side Effects

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, Side Effects, uses the modern themes of high finance and psychiatry to fashion a plot that grows increasingly riveting as the story unfolds. The script features some very classic elements of tale-spinning executed with adroitness, while the director’s realistic, subtle style makes a great complement. What is more, there are all kinds of themes and subtext of interest to the libertarian, who will nod knowingly throughout the film, even if the filmmakers take a neutral position and give no indication whether they are too.

There are a number of plot points that pull the rug out from underneath the viewer, turning points that completely alter what the movie appears to be about. By the time we find out the true nature of the story, a few of these twists have already occurred. This makes it difficult to know how to summarize the film.

The movie is a suspense thriller of sorts, but distinct from most thrillers in the way it is executed. Soderbergh does not use slow-motion, close-up cuts or insistent music to belabor points and hit the audience over the head. He films and edits in a simple, subtle style. This is not to say that the movie is hard to follow, but Soderbergh does treat us like adults. When a character is dissimulating, for instance, this fact will not be spoonfed to the viewer. There will be no close-up of the actor’s face as he makes the kind of expression that has come to be a clue that he is tricking someone, the kind of expression that, if a person made it in real life, would instantly give him away.

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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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