09-09-2011, 08:04 AM
Contagion: The Biohazard Thriller
| Contagion: The Biohazard Thriller |
Yet the film has a propulsive power thanks to Soderbergh’s tight grip on realism and his (sparing) use of a pulsing synthesizer score. When humanity is really up against it, what will we do? The answer, according to Soderbergh and his sharp screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, is a dark one. Some people will seek profit through fraud; others will loot and riot in pursuit of any conceivable cure, or merely to survive. There is a telling scene in which Damon’s character calls 911 after witnessing an armed break-in at a neighbor’s house: Due to the volume of calls, he gets stuck in a phone tree. Those who followed the story of the recent looting in Britain will note that, at a moment when the rule of law has broken down, ordinarily reliable services like an emergency hotline quickly become useless.
The one slightly silly element of an otherwise gripping and credible film is that Soderbergh must find himself a villain and decides, as millions perish, that it should be…a blogger? The scribbler in question (Jude Law) is a failed freelance journalist in San Francisco who is the first to raise the alarm about the virus when he posts video of a man collapsing on a bus. This makes his blogging (which, we are told in a memorable quip, is not writing but “graffiti with punctuation”) a worldwide sensation and he quickly leverages his status to promote a quack cure for the virus that stands to vastly enrich him.
Moreover, as you’d expect from Soderbergh, an out-there liberal who a couple of years ago filmed a loving four-hour homage to Che Guevara, there is a dig against the military, though it’s fairly mild by Hollywood standards. A high-ranking officer (Bryan Cranston) in Washington distracts scientists trying to learn more about the virus by speculating that it might have been created and spread by terrorists. Soderbergh doesn’t dedicate a lot of energy to vilifying him, though.
More surprising is that such a committed liberal as Soderbergh should use the movie to land several hard punches against unions. We’re repeatedly told that during the pandemic the nurses union, the Teamsters, and even the union of funeral-home employees are refusing to do their jobs. It’s not hard to believe that unions would, as they have throughout the financial crisis, consider themselves above sharing in a generalized pain, but one wonders: Where did this animosity come from? In addition to big studio productions like Erin Brockovich and the Ocean’s movies, Soderbergh has also filmed several micro-budget movies in which union costs would have been a major hindrance. If a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, then a union buster, evidently, is an artist who has tried to work around the Teamsters.
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