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dir Steven Soderbergh
scr Scott Z Burns
prd Gregory Jacobs, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Steven Soderbergh
with Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Elliott Gould, Bryan Cranston, Chin Han, John Hawkes, Sanaa Lathan
release US 9.Sep.11, UK 21.Oct.11
11/US Warner 1h45
Natural immunity: Damon
VENICE FILM FEST
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Soderbergh applies his brainier brand of filmmaking to the global outbreak thriller genre, and the result is a hugely gripping blockbuster that never talks down to its audience. It's also terrifyingly believable as we watch a deadly flu virus spread around the world.
In Minneapolis, Mitch (Damon) is horrified when his wife (Paltrow) comes home from a business trip to China, collapses with the flu and dies. But she's only the first of a series of similar cases around the world, and soon officials from the Centers for Disease Control (Winslet, Fishburne and Ehle) and the World Health Organisation (Cotillard) are on the case, trying to manage emerging clusters while tracing the disease back to its source. Meanwhile, a blog hack (Law) is pestering a San Francisco scientist (Gould) for a cure.
Screenwriter Burns uses the multi-strand structure to cleverly touch on every conceivable aspect of the situation, anchoring everything in the intensely personal experience of Damon's frightened and frazzled husband and father, whose own immunity is little consolation. Meanwhile, other plot threads are more procedural, with Winslet trying to contain Minneapolis, Cotillard following the trail back to Macau (and getting caught up in her own thriller) and Ehle searching for a vaccine. And then there's Fishburne's CDC chief contending with an over-reactive Homeland Security boss (Cranston).
All of this is held together with Stephen Mirrione's sharp editing and Cliff Martinez's pulsating score. And even if some strands fall through the cracks (Cotillard's experience is badly truncated), the events give the excellent cast the chance to create memorable characters we can engage with as they face the unthinkable after the wrong bad meets the wrong pig. But of course it happened less than a century ago: in 1918, some 100 million died from the Spanish Flu.
While Soderbergh takes an almost documentary approach to detail, he also keeps the action pacey and urgent, never letting up for a second as the pandemic develops. The possibility that even the lead characters may die adds to the suspense. So this is the rarest of movies: a fiercely entertaining and intelligent blockbuster. And the most chilling thing of all is seeing how easily we spread germs every day.
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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