Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA/United Arab Emirates, 2011. Warner Bros., Participant Media, Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ, Double Feature Films, Digital Image Associates, Regency Enterprises. Screenplay by Scott Z. Burns. Cinematography by Steven Soderbergh. Produced by Gregory Jacobs, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher. Music by Cliff Martinez. Production Design by Howard Cummings. Costume Design by Louise Frogley. Film Editing by Stephen Mirrione.
A business executive comes home from a business trip in Hong Kong and, two days later, dies of a very severe flu-like virus. Within a few days, a couple of the people who came in contact with her, including her son, also pass away, and the number grows and grows to the millions over weeks as governments try to keep the world from panicking and scientists look for a cure. Sixteen years earlier in Outbreak, a subplot involving a helicopter bomb-drop and Dustin Hoffman making an impassioned speech were needed to boost a virus disaster tale into box office potential, but Steven Soderbergh’s international tale needs no such decorations. Instead it is a simple, streamlined and totally riveting tale that avoids easy finger-pointing and implicates us all: the ending is monumentally impressive for how very succinctly it connects us all to potential tragedy instead of the usual Hollywood habit of pointing fingers at an isolated group. A huge score of award-winning, celebrated actors (including Jude Law with hilariously bad teeth as a woo-promoting conspiracy theorist) cross the screen devoted to the task of saving humanity without drawing obsessive attention to themselves, the best of them Jennifer Ehle as a scientist thoroughly devoted to her work but not fully against the possibilities of glory. What’s fascinating is that the narrative is not the least bit impressed by the fame of anyone involved in the picture enough to guarantee their safety. It’s not a deeply felt or lasting drama about the many tangents of experience that come from a widespread illness, but it is heavily entertaining while cerebral at the same time, rocking some impressive dialogue and a host of superb performances.