THRILLER CONTAGION (12A) 106min ●●●●●

Steven Soderbergh revives the all-star disaster movie with Contagion, a sober account of a deadly virus which threatens the world’s population. Nimbly flitting around the globe in the style of the same director’s Traffic, Contagion eschews thrills and last-minute escapes in favour of dryly clinical observation of the ethical questions a pandemic might pose. Playing his strongest suit first, Soderbergh opens on day two of the

outbreak, as Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) drops dead after returning from Hong Kong. Her death and the demise of her son shatters husband Mitch (Matt Damon), who becomes fiercely protective of his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron). As Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) searches for the source of the deadly contagion, blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) bickers with government official Dr Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), Dr Leonora

Orantes (Marion Cotillard) searches for the source internationally, while Elliot Gould, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) and even Demetri Martin make up the numbers. Contagion tackles the hot button issue of disaster capitalism, as explored in

Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, raising the post-swine flu issue of how modern government profits from exploiting tragedy. But Soderbergh’s film lacks heart or focus, instead documenting various lightly drawn character- strands as it focuses on the bigger picture rather than clichéd dramatics. Nicely shot by Soderbergh himself, and driven by another thumping techno score by Cliff Martinez (Drive), Contagion is passable low-key entertainment, yet the fragmented approach never threatens to rise to an emotionally or intellectually satisfying point. The bodies pile up, but the low-wattage performances and the underlying hysteria of the film never mesh, leaving an alarmist but shallow interpretation of the disaster format. (Eddie Harrison) General release from Fri 21 Oct.

THRILLER ANONYMOUS (12A) 129min ●●●●● DRAMA THE FUTURE (12A) 90min ●●●●●

DRAMA/THRILLER MISS BALA (15) 113min ●●●●●

Director Roland Emmerich is long established as the king of the apocalyptic blockbuster with a career defined by Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. It is quite a surprise to witness him diving enthusiastically into a treacly 17th century conspiracy thriller intent on unmasking the true author of William Shakespeare’s plays.

Anonymous plays fast and loose with history as screenwriter John Orloff weaves a plausible yarn around the possibility that Edward de Vere, Earl Of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) was the unseen hand behind Hamlet. Desperate to protect his position at court, de Vere selects the doltish thespian Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) as his stooge.

Intrigue and heartache are neatly balanced with a particularly irreverent depiction of an elderly, confused Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) as the mother of an untold number of illegitimate offspring. Extensive use of CGI paints an expansive view of London and its multitudes. The facts may be suspect but Emmerich combines craftsmanship and a strong cast (David Thewlis, Helen Baxendale) to create a ripping historical romp. (Allan Hunter) General release from Fri 28 Oct.

‘Quirky’ is the word most frequently bandied about when describing the work of Miranda July. The Future is a far more disturbing and sombre film than this adjective would suggest. OK, so it’s narrated by a cat, but a cat who alludes to the ‘darkness that it is not appropriate to talk about’ within the film’s opening moments. The premise is simple enough: Sophie and Jason, an underachieving couple in their mid-30s, decide to give a home to a terminally-ill feline. The impending responsibility of this adoption causes them to ‘re- prioritise’ in a rather drastic manner: they turn off the internet, quit their dull jobs and proceed to bring a whole new meaning to the term ‘existential crisis’. As Sophie, July delivers a troubling portrait of a woman in flight from her own life. As in her 2005 debut feature Me, You and Everyone We Know (2005), the lure of technology and sex only provide evermore elaborate paths to anaesthesia: so long as one can fill up all those empty moments, it might be possible to keep that darkness at bay . . . but only for so long. (Anna Rogers) Cameo, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 4 Nov. See profile, page 66.

Laura (newcomer Stephanie Sigman) is a young working-class woman living in the border city of Baja who enters the state beauty pageant. She is kidnapped by drugs baron Lino (Noe Hernandez). In return for her winning the competition, she has to act as a mule for Lino: if she refuses her family will be executed. It’s how director Gerardo Naranjo and his

Hungarian cinematographer Mátyás Erdély shoot their material which gives Miss Bala its compelling distinctiveness. They heighten their protagonist’s fear and confusion by frequently shooting her from behind and favouring near focus images, avoiding more conventional close-ups. The inventive sound design further amplifies her disorientation, while the set-piece gun battles between the gangsters and the cops are impressively photographed in long takes. The film itself represents a powerful critique of a society riddled by corruption and lethal violence, in which Laura’s nightmarish plight is a metaphor for the chaos endured by ordinary Mexican people in the disastrous war against drugs. (Tom Dawson) GFT, Glasgow and Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 28 Oct.

20 Oct–17 Nov 2011 THE LIST 67