Quarantine your excitement. This procedural drama from director Stephen Soderbergh, writer Scott Z. Burns and a centrifuge of Hollywood top actors is a workmanlike outbreak tale with an incubation period of two days of paranoia.
Yes, the movie will scare you. You will ick and yuck multiple times. There are even some genuinely moving little moments. But I found it emptier than Soderbergh’s other serious global fugue, Traffic, which at least had a surprising turn from Benicio del Toro. The closest thing we get to a narrative surprise in this film is a snaggle-toothed Jude Law seeping through the cracks of the justice system.
The movie was shot on the RED camera (by Soderberg using nom de cam Peter Andrews) in an unfussy, verité style. The art direction is a triumph, and what visual effects have been done (there are several artists credited), are seamless. We are never in doubt, visually, that this is a world over-run by a viral contagion.
If only the script was as credible. Are we expected to believe that mass rioting would not interrupt the scientific and government effort to contain the virus? Would Laurence Fishburne’s character really be held to account for his (very human and forgivable) actions? I can believe that rules on human-testing would be relaxed in such a crisis more than I can believe that a smart doctor who is an expert on the virus would risk killing herself. (Even successful vaccines will harm a percentage of recipients. The movie has the time to explain R-0’s but not “herd immunity”.)
To be fair, I know someone who saw a preview screening of this film and said the original cut was much, much longer. I expect in the extended version of the story scenes like the one between Dr. Hextall (Jennifer Ehly) and her father didn’t come out of nowhere.
If I chide, it is because I have high expectations from the players involved. Certainly the film — as a movie, as a story, as a sobering warning about potential pandemics — is in another level beyond the recent schlockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes. There probably hasn’t been a film this genuinely frightening in theaters in a long time. Don’t throw away this smart film petri dish — just keep cultivating!