Tuesday, November 22, 2011

MA$$ACRE: Contagion (2011)




Watching society fall apart is one of my favorite things to do, so I was pretty excited to see that Steven Soderbergh was doing it large-scale by unleashing a virus on the world. What's more, first and foremost he chose to target my former home state of Minnesota! It's always good to see familiar territory being ravaged by plague. I'm impressed by how versatile Soderbergh can be, and while he doesn't always hit the mark with his bigger-budget features, it's clear that he's not afraid to ditch the money in favor of making films he wants to make (i.e. Bubble). Here he's picked up a whole line-up of big-name actors to assemble his ensemble cast, but thankfully never lets the star power overshadow his film.

Matt Damon acts as our Minneapolitan civilian counterpart whose family is one of the first to fall prey to the disease. Meanwhile in Atlanta, Lawrence Fishburne steps in as the head of the CDC and desperately tries to contain the outbreak, prevent the general population from panicking, and keep himself from exploiting his position of power to keep his loved-ones safe. We also get Jude Law as a conspiracy theorist blogger, Zoey Deschanel as a disease investigator in China, and Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, John Hawkes... needless to say, there's a lot going on in this movie. For the most part it's balanced pretty well, although some of the stories inevitably get shortchanged. It's also a shame that we don't get any main characters based in China, where the disease originates and seemingly has an equally devastating effect (if not moreso than what we're shown in the U.S.).

The stories unfold simultaneously,and are broken up by news-reel style footage and voiceovers, setting this film firmly in reality. There's nothing campy or sensationalistic about it – at times it's almost too subtle, but this works really well when shit really begins to hit the fan. The overall feel reminded me of a modern version of Threads, perhaps a little less bleak and soul-crushing in the end, with nuclear fallout replaced by an unusually aggresive superbug.

This one was definitely worth the $2 entry fee. There's a bit of a post-apocalyptic vibe to the whole deal, and I'm a sucker for anything that suggests the end is nigh, so I had a blast. It's sometimes understated, but has a few killer scenes that really hammer home the sense of dread. I'd recommend checking it out over the holidays – what better way to spend Thanksgiving than watching a movie about a Thanksgiving epidemic? Just wash your damn hands before touching the food.

 8/10 = See it

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