Contagion – Review

Steven Soderbergh is one of modern cinema’s most interesting characters. Coming to international attention with the somewhat controversial Sex, Lies and videotape which won Soderbergh the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1990. What followed was acclaim for the film and the director the next year saw the film being nominated and in many cases winning awards all over the world. Having made his name and cemented his reputation the two decades following saw him create a wide variety of very different types of films. He moves from large-scale Hollywood fare such as Oceans Eleven to smaller more experimental, art-house films like The Girlfriend Experience. He attempts to avoid revisiting the same genre of film with the exception of the two Oceans sequels. These appear to have been made in order to gain finance for some of his more personal projects. Along the way, he has worked with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood including George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Julia Roberts on several very successful projects. He has taken on film noir, Sci-Fi, the heist movie, Biography, Political drama, revenge thriller, and legal drama to name a few. Now, with his 2011 major studio release, Contagion, he takes on the disaster movie.

The film opens with the title card Day 2. A woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns home after a business trip to Hong Kong, feeling unwell. The next she is rushed to hospital by her husband (Matt Damon) with a mysterious ailment. She dies soon after as the doctors are unable to diagnose and treat her condition. It becomes apparent that the woman had a contagious disease previously unknown and reports of infection are starting to come in from different places all over the world. The Centre for disease control (CDC) is tasked with finding a cure before the outbreak becomes a worldwide epidemic. The process is a slow one and as more people are affected society starts to break down and panic takes over. It is a race against time with people turning to rumour and self-preservation at any cost.

Considering the number of big-name actors in this film it is a bit of a surprise that it has very little in the way of character development. The story moves forward with each new phase of the outbreak. The actors are pretty much there to drive the plot on. The real star of the film is the disease itself. Don’t be fooled by the trailers for this film. This is not a fast-paced action movie. It is a reasonably slow-paced and methodical drama. Like the disease itself, the various plot strands are developed in isolation. Matt Damon’s character, somehow immune to the disease, trying to protect his daughter, Jude Law as the blogger who broke the story and has a worldwide audience listening to his conspiracy theories and Laurence Fishburne overseeing the CDC’s efforts in finding a cure. Other stars such as Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, and Bryan Cranston appear in their own strands of the story again with minimal contact with each other. There is no opportunity for overlap or integration which is parallel to what is happening to the population at large, being isolated from each other, and more importantly any consistent contact with other people.

What you get from this film is a real sense of unease. If you view this with other people you soon start to become attuned to every cough and sneeze around you. I watched this on a bus which may well be the worst place to do so. People coughing while not covering their mouth, feet up on seats, discarding rubbish. Good times.

Overall a good film that draws you in slowly. With a major star dying within the first five minutes your expectations are shattered. No one is safe and anything can happen. Recommended. Wear a face mask.

John McArthur
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