Director Steven Soderbergh is back in big-budget Hollywood mode with Contagion, a slick and proficient, if largely impassive, thriller about a global pandemic featuring an all-star cast saying their lines and going through very professional motions.
Patient zero is Gwyneth Paltrow, who, soon after returning home from Japan to her husband (Matt Damon) and kids, collapses and dies, as do people in London and Hong Kong. From there Center for Disease Control officials (Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet) and a World Health Organization epidemiologist (Marion Cotillard) try to get a handle on the lethal and fast-spreading virus.
Some may appreciate Soderbergh’s clinical approach to the material versus getting another find-a-cure thrill ride a la Outbreak. I agree it helps make the breakdown of society that occurs feel a little more realistic, and thus more frightening. We learn a few statistics, like how many times a day we touch our faces, and Scott Burns‘ script makes light of things you might never have thought of, like the government running out of body bags and how long it would take to create and distribute a vaccine.
But it all but deprives the film of a soul. We never really come to care about anyone, aside from Damon, who registers the strongest as a man trying to protect his daughter, and provides the film its only true emotionally resonant moment near the end. Cotillard’s subplot not only wastes her talent but gets wrapped up flatly. The only character here who even kind of pops is Jude Law‘s bugger of a British blogger who’s out to exploit the epidemic.
I do have to give Soderbergh credit for the technical side of things. His camerawork is crisp, his editing smooth and he moves things along at a brisk pace. (It’s interesting to note how vibrant the colors are in the security camera footage of Paltrow versus the washed out palette of the rest of the film.) As well I liked how he ended things by showing us exactly what led to the epidemic. Yet I imagine what most people will take away from the film is the sight of Paltrow getting her head sawed open. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 1/3/12