Best known for his prolific output and ability to work at the intersection of Hollywood and art cinema, Steven Soderbergh makes films that present diverse subject matter and formal styles. His 25 movies include the 1989 independent hit, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, social problem films (Erin Brockovich, 2000; Traffic, 2000; Che, 2008), deconstructions of genre (The Limey, 1999; Solaris, 2002; Haywire, 2011), digital video improvisation (Full Frontal, 2002; Bubble, 2005), and star-studded blockbusters (the Ocean’s trilogy 2001, 2004, 2007; Magic Mike, 2012).
Contagion begins with a black screen and a cough; someone somewhere is sick–and spreading it–but we cannot see who. Characters spend much of the rest of the film staring into monitors, feverishly studying computer-generated models of the mysterious virus or digital video of its victims, but however hard they look, their screens reveal only biological explanations for the epidemic. They inevitably exclude macroeconomic and social forces, which are even harder to picture than the microscopic disease but causally every bit as important.
Since Marey’s motion studies at the end of the nineteenth century, film has been a tool for providing visible evidence, a record of things seen. The development of digital imaging technology over the past twenty years has transformed that original empirical function.
Early in Fast Five, charismatic Han (Sung Kang) arrives in Rio de Janeiro, recruited Ocean’s Eleven-style to play a role in an elaborate heist. Though fans of the series will no doubt be delighted to see him, they may be perplexed when they recall that he met an unambiguous death in previous installment The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. His persistence is a mystery, like that of the generally heavy-handed and lead-footed franchise itself.
“You know how I got the money, when I was starting out? Here. Not here, but a place like it, in the Sprawl. Joke, to start with, ‘cause once they plant the cut-out chip, it seems like free money. Wake up sore, sometimes, but that’s it. Renting the goods, is all. You aren’t in, when it’s all happening. House has software for whatever a customer wants to pay for …”
The two parts of Che are doomed to be shown separately after the initial “Special Roadshow” opening, but they rightly comprise one movie. This is not to suggest that Soderbergh is experimenting with temporal aesthetics; he lives on Hollywood time, and at four hours plus, Che isn’t visionary, it’s long.