Review: Contagion (2011)

DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh.

CAST: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chin Han, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Sanaa Lathan, John Hawkes, Bryan Cranston, Elliott Gould, Brian J. O’Donnell.

SYNOPSIS: When a deadly disease starts spreading across the world, the speed and unpredictability at which it attacks leaves the human population helpless. Following different stories, some that connect and some that don’t, we see how this unknown virus affects individual families, doctors and the pressure that falls on the government.

Contagion’s main weapon lies in just how incredibly realistic the events that play before us are. These massive Hollywood superstars on our screen are no longer past and present Oscar contenders, but real people fighting for their lives. While it’s safe to say this film has acquired a cast most directors would give their left arm for, their ability to transform into your average civilian marks out just why.

Mitch Emhoff (Damon) is the only character we are fully able to make an emotional connection with, his family life explored in detail and daughter Jory (Jacoby-Heron) having to suffer his house arrest due to the unpredictable nature of the constantly mutating virus. Giving a very human performance, an acceptance that he has to make near the start is so heartbreaking and understated that it’s almost unbearable to watch.

Whereas Mitch is helpless to the fate of himself and those he loves, Dr. Ellis Cheever (Fishburne) is in a much more privileged position when it comes to any potential immunisation. The only other character to have his personal life delved into at any depth, Ellis has duties towards the public and wife Aubrey (Lathan) as well as his trusty colleague Dr. Erin Mears (Winslet). Fishburne shows that with great power comes great responsibility and his ability to put others before himself makes him the glue holding everybody else together.

When it comes to the ladies, Winslet, Paltrow and Cotillard are somewhat held at a distance. All effective in their important roles within the fabric of the film, it is Winslet who fares best as the Dr. trying to put everything to order in her area of the US. Paltrow and Cotillard are both absolutely key to the plot, but Cotillard especially has little more to do than help move the story along. But it’s Jude Law who’s the person you’ll remember most as the jumped-up Aussie freelancer who wants the public to understand the truth. He believes he holds the key to a massive government cover-up and gets under everyone’s skin in the process. Alan Krumwiede’s attempts to turn himself into a martyr for the cause work well for the most part and Law never quite lets the audience understand what is going through his head – a trait that definitely suits the actor.

Contagion definitely shocks. Although it’s not an idea we are completely unfamiliar with, the idea of it getting this out of control and this severe is more than scary. It’s a much more tangible situation than the idea of zombies and hits you all the harder for it. Focused on the individual rather than the grand scale of things, we never fully get to appreciate the sheer craziness of this virus and are only told by news reporters how many people have died at any one time. But this detachment to the outside world makes Contagion all the more eerie.

An intensely fascinating film, Scott Z. Burns’ script includes a vast amount of detail, but is surprisingly easy to digest with the acting never feeling too overdramatic or contrived. Cliff Martinez’s score pulls everything together, helping the scenes move forward so they never lull or drag. With one of the slickest openings of any recent film, I can promise you that if someone coughs when you see this, you’ll be washing your hands for a week.

VERDICT: 4/5

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2 responses to “Review: Contagion (2011)

  1. Interesting review. I like your conclusion about the effect this film will have on people the next time they sneeze. Have a read at my review,

    http://pgtipsonfilms.com/2011/10/25/contagion-film-review/

    Do you agree?

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