Stephen Soderbergh’s admiral versatility, his chameleon ability to flit from form to form, high to low budget, genre to genre, means expectations of his next deliverance are always slightly askew. What will be the next Sodernergh incarnation, what direction will he blow, is he wearing a hat? A non-sequitur yes, but a little like his film career, it doesn’t have to make sense to work. And when he makes the biggies, he grosses well. Money talks and it’s that balance of success and independence that sees him through. Maybe keeps him fresh. Even if only for himself.
So where are we here then? The world of disease disaster that’s where. Outbreak epidemic. Capricious bacterial calamity. So who are we going to call? Everybody that’s who! In time honoured Soderbergh tradition, step forward Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow (the film is almost worth seeing on its own for one of her particular scenes) Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne. Hell, you’d barely notice the brilliant Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle or Elliot Gould stuffed way down the bill like added extras.
The movie tees up in time honoured disaster style by planting us in foreboding pre-break out unsettlement. Beth Ehmhoff (Paltrow) returns from a far-eastern business trip the worse for wear. A few days later she’s cough turned crash-cart and things are starting to spread. Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and their unfortunate son are next and so it begins. Marion Cotillard is the World Health Organisation’s girl on the ground, Jude Law the pesky online contrarian whackjob (those damn bloggers eh?) Fishburne and Winslet are with the USA’s Centre For Disease Control…But it’s too late this thing’s gone globally AWOL with an “R0” of four.
The film, by the way, is getting praise for its scientific accuracy, introducing terms such as R0 – Basic Reproduction Number if you must know. But it’s a distraction. There’s nothing new here. The film is graded in shades of green, it’s sickly and for effect and perhaps a little too self-conscious. There’s nothing wrong with any of this – it’s epidemic, grand scale pulp. A pumping Cliff Martinez soundtrack (he of the wonderfully sound-tracked and just plain wonderful Drive) keeps the momentum up. You don’t really have time to get attached to anyone of our multi-faceted players, a couple of the strands are neglected, and you don’t really care. Enjoy the ride. It’s all delightfully silly.