Contagion is the latest movie brimming with A-list stars from acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh and his writing partner on The Informant, Scott Z. Burns. Simply put, the film is about how the world would react to a massive viral outbreak – from the “everyman” to the doctors to the press. The huge cast includes Matt Damon as a now-widowed father after his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) contracts the disease, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet as CDC doctors, Jude Law as a renegade blogger, and Marion Cotillard as a member of the World Health Organization (and that’s just to name a few; briefly seen side characters are always popping in and out, played by the likes of John Hawkes, Bryan Cranston, Demetri Martin, and Elliot Gould). The story is told with the typical “Soderbergh” flair, and is devoid of the crazy Roland Emmerich-style end-of-the-world type panic scenarios. It’s a disaster movie without the screaming, if you will.
I loved the look and feel of this movie. The film feels very clinical and realistic, as if we’re watching exactly what would happen if this situation occurred in real life. Shot digitally, the movie feels very modern; the camera also nicely focuses on people touching things and one another – a clean and simple way to show that germs are passing (I would recommend germophobes and people with OCD do NOT see this film!). The script is great as well, and even though the stakes are high, the film is mostly human, focusing on the individual characters and how they are trying to pull through this epidemic. Although some characters get shortchanged (especially Marion Cotillard’s), all the actors are on the top of their game, often giving each situation a heavy emotional undercurrent. I also thought the music of the film was an appropriately eerie electronic-sounding score (reminded me a lot of The Social Network).
Contagion isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a smart, adult take on what could have been a campy summer flick (a la I Am Legend). Besides not all the characters getting equal amounts of importance or closure, I found myself enjoying (in a morbid sort of way) seeing how the world would [potentially] react to a worldwide contagion – hey, better for it to be in a movie than in real life. While not being wholly original (this could have been the movie version of World War Z had it been a zombie virus), it’s still much better than most of the horror/thriller movies out there. There’s social commentary, strong performances, a chilling soundtrack, and a dead Gwyneth Paltrow – what else could you want?