Contagion: A Flickcharter’s Movie Review
The only flaw to Contagion – if it is a flaw in the eyes of director Steven Soderbergh – is that there is very little audience connection to the characters. The film is framed as if we are looking down and instead of seeing people, watching growth inside of a petri dish. And it fits to some degree because Contagion acts not as a story, but a cold, lab-engineered, sterilized cautionary reminder of human behavior. Steven Soderbergh is not a cuddly director. As he exhibited in Che, he likes to bring you into the grit. This is a global scare and not one of us is safe. Not one. The horror of the film is that it is not like The Andromeda Strain or Outbreak. This is entirely conceivable.
We first meet Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) on an overseas trip and upon returning to her home she randomly becomes sick. Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) has no idea of what is happening and no inclination of what to tell his kids. The infected start spreading and soon the population is eating itself whole. Blogs, talking heads – both with good-intentions and not – showcase the media in this century as prioritized to be panic-centric. Jude Law plays a journalist whose name hits the stratosphere when he uploads a video of a man dying on a bus. There is no context to the death, but that doesn’t matter. By inciting a panic he can become the new Kingmaker of nightly news. “Blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.”
Contagion is unique in that the film spends a great deal of time in the Center for Disease Control. Dr. Cheever is handling the crisis (Laurence Fishburne) in a modern age where globalization is a boon to the economy, yet a death knell for spreading disease. He sends Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) to Hong Kong to see when Beth contracted the disease, and Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to treat a very distraught Mitch in Minnesota.
Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns aren’t just interested in genetic viruses, but the viruses that plague our communication systems. And it’s a pleasure to see a film with a laser-focus on what the actual danger of an outbreak is: human behavior. We create distance, yet we never choose to do so at the appropriate time. When we go to work sick we willfully endanger others and we don’t care. Ironically, the closeness that gets us infected is all but abandoned when the crisis hits.
Despite the high caliber cast, a majority of the focus is only on Damon, Law and Lawrence Fishburne. Kate Winslet, and Marion Cotillard are good, though their cumulative screentimes leaves one wanting more, as does the brisk running time at 100 minutes.
How Does This Compare to Outbreak?
Like Outbreak, Contagion has an all-star cast and is great at creating tension. What Contagion does better is making the entire plot believable with a documentary feel through the direction and cinematography. It’s methodically realistic and it unsettles the audience in doing so. Outbreak was more focused on conspiracies centered around biological weapons.
Contagion ranks #202 out of #928 on my Flickchart.