Contagion ★★★★

I love Steven Soderbergh. His proportion of masterpieces to films that are simply good might not be the best, but he has a cinematic vocabulary that is entertaining almost without exception, and this mastery is especially evident in Contagion.

One of the things I most admire him for is that he will never use dialogue where the camera can do the explaining. There are a multitude of shots here that simply serve to communicate how a disease like this spreads: focuses on door handles and on a grocery store customer coughing into the air do more than a lot of wordy exposition. He also has a penchant for montages with such wonderfully clear progression and purpose. It might sound simple, but to me this is the difference between a competent director and a great one.

Then there's Soderbergh's mysterious ability to somehow assemble massive ensemble casts and then actually handle them well. You could say that The Expendables also managed to assemble an impressive cast, but the difference is obvious. Everyone in Contagion is lovingly characterized from the stalwart Matt Damon with the unenviable task of keeping his daughter away from her boyfriend to the annoying Jude Law and his selfish idealism. Just as he somehow finds the perfect song for every scene, he also has his characters singing along in ways that always feel consistent and real.

I don't think it has quite as much personality as his masterpieces, but it's exceptionally enjoyable in spite of its somber atmosphere. Excellent film about the power of fear, the bureaucratic difficulties of protecting the innocent, and the bravery and strength of the select few who stand up and do something.

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