Sunday, 30 October 2011

Contagion - Steven Soderbergh (2011)

  1. Contagion is a disaster movie by Steven Soderbergh starring every single actor in Hollywood.
  2. Jude Law suffers from a terrible illness. Its symptoms include a prosthetic overbite and a risible Australian accent. Soderbergh has a tin ear when it comes to accents. You probably remember Don Cheadle's wince-inducing 'English' accent in Ocean's Eleven and, absurdly, Terence Stamp's English accent in The Limey.
  3. Remember when Steven Soderbergh made great films like Sex, Lies and Videotape and ... well that was a pretty great film.
  4. Soderbergh directs both serious works and 'entertainments'. When he's doing his serious face  there are hundreds of characters, all given equal emphasis. He's pretty pleased with this technique because it subverts one of Hollywood's central traditions: tight narrative focalisation. It even has certain right-on political implications since most American films have one character who soaks up our time and sympathy and that person is a white American male. He fucked it up in this film though, because the Chin Han/Marion Cotillard ethnic Stockholm Syndrome storyline was just too boring for the final cut and got mulched into a humilating montage with the music dubbed over the dialogue like no one would notice.
  5. Is a disappointing disaster movie more disastrous than a good disaster movie? Feel free to entertain yourself with this paradox during the final 40 minutes of this film.
  6. There are a few decent scenes, the first occurs immediately after the death of Gwyneth Paltrow - it's the one with Matt Damon and the doctor, and it's in the trailer. There's the moment where the pathologist saws off the top of Gwyneth Paltrow's head and flaps her scalp over her eyes like a haute couture meat fringe. There's also the shot of Kate Winslett's head covered in cellophane like something from the window of a Dalston butchers.
  7. You'll notice that the 10-Point Review has not bothered to marry the names of these actors to the names of their characters, not just because the word 'character' doesn't apply here, but because the impact of these scenes depends on outraging our expectation of how long we're going to spend watching Gwyneth Paltrow die. This has a lot to do with economics - we just can't quite believe that an actress who makes $10 million a film will be bumped off in the first 10 minutes and the sense of waste we experience when she is is an attenuated version of sudden bereavement. This disease, which is really a metaphor for the world's most famous disease, Death, falls on the famous and the obscure alike. 
  8. Several actors have been miscast and then left to muddle through as best they can. Matt Damon plays a fleshy Liam Neeason. Lawrence Fishburne acquits himself well as Morgan Freeman. And Kate Winslett does a pretty good Julianne Moore.  
  9. Judging by all the gurning Jude Law seems to think that he's been cast against type as the world's least likeable man. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
  10. The world-through-the-eyes-of-a-dying-man shots are taken from Ivan's XTC, based on Tolstoy's short story, The Death of Ivan Ilych. If you'd like to spend a sobering few hours contemplating your own mortality you could watch that on a double bill with The Death of Mr Lazarescu.


  1. Ivan's XTC is a really good film. I had forgotten about it; thank you for reminding me.

  2. I really like the idea of casting the stratospherically rich and famous to encourage viewers to ruminate on the levelling effects of mortality. It doesn't make me want to see the film but I'd like to send Mr Soderburgh £5 to support his good endeavour.