Much like he’s used the influence of movies like Klute, Solaris and The Parallax View to create some of the best works of his impeccable career, Steven Soderbergh is seriously having a throwback blast with Contagion, a pandemic genre flick that shows the world plagued with the suspicion of a globally fatal disease.
In Contagion, Soderbergh casts a plethora of heavy-hitters (almost every major player has been nominated for an Oscar; most have won), and throws them into a world in which a mysterious, incurable disease is wiping out millions, with no clear end in sight.
There’s the successful businesswoman (Gwyenth Paltrow) who may or may not have been the first person to contract the disease, her soon-to-be widowed husband (Matt Damon), the cool calm and collected head of the CDC (Laurence Fishburne), the educated scientist (Kate Winslet), the educated problem solver (Marion Cotillard), the hysterical conspiracy theorist (Jude Law), the quiet janitor (John Hawkes), the determined General (Bryan Cranston) and on and on.
Soderbergh is a true actor’s director. No matter your status or number of awards, no matter how much money you make or how distinguished your filmography is; if you’re right for the part, you’re right for the part.
Contagion has some serious A-listers, but it also has quite a few little-known actors in very significant roles. And everyone, most thankfully, is given equal screen time. There are no grandstanding moments of epic catharsis, no Oscar-baiting, music swelling scenes of remorse. As a film, Contagion depends most on its actors, and it’s very rewarding to see everyone putting in such solid work.
But there’s another reason you may enjoy Contagion as much as I did, and that is the simple pleasure of watching a master at work.
Steven Soderbergh, I’d argue more so than any living filmmaker, is a true master of his craft. His technique, simply put, is deliberate and flawless. Acting again as his own cinematographer, he knows when to focus pull his camera, when to use steadicam or hand held, what filter to use, and, most importantly, when to leave the camera the hell alone on a tripod. In addition, the music (by Cliff Martinez), is always pitch perfect, the editing (here by Stephen Mirrione, an Oscar winner for Traffic) is always seamless and evolving; everything involved is the result of a true auteur of the medium.
Minutes after Contagion ended, I tweeted that if you were a Soderbergh fan, you’d love this film, but I cautioned that if you were unfamiliar with Steven Soderbergh, Contagion may not be for you. But seriously, who’s unfamiliar with Steven Soderbergh? A-