Review: 'Contagion' Is Less Terrifying and More Interestingly Paranoid

September 12, 2011

Contagion Review

A star-studded disaster movie, Steven Soderbergh's Contagion is more Robert Altman than Irwin Allen, more paranoia and societal breaking point than beautiful people dealing directly with the natural calamity at hand. At times chillingly quiet instead of edge-of-your seat intense, it sends a cool rush of air through the audience, and though it coasts to a subdued, almost dissatisfying, conclusion and splits off varying strands of disconnected lines of plot, some unneeded, others forgotten along the way, Contagion ends up an intriguing real-world look at what might happen if we're confronted with a worldwide epidemic.

Soderbergh's film may have benefited from the director pumping up the suspense level - the film's scariest aspect is the stray tooth Jude Law is sporting up front - but the character pieces are still for the most part present and confidently executed. It all begins with Gwyneth Paltrow. Doesn't everything, though? A businesswoman traveling from Hong Kong to her home and family in Minneapolis, she has contracted a strange virus, one with flu-like symptoms that clenches onto her immune system and kills her mere days after first exposure. While her husband, played by Matt Damon, deals with what has happened to her, more and more outbreaks of this virus pop up around the world. Soon, a CDC investigation lead by two doctors, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet, is mounted as to what has caused the virus and how they can thwart it before it becomes an out-of-control pandemic.

For the most part, Soderbergh bounces between stories around the world with graceful editing, never jarring you from one moment to the next. In the early moments of the film, Marion Cotillard's character of a member of the World Health Organization in Geneva is handled with as much assuredness as Damon's mourning husband and father trying to save his daughter from the potential outbreak. The early moments, probably the first half, of Contagion plays like a Michael Crichton novel complete with medical and scientific terminology, analogous exposition to help the audience keep up with how serious this disease is, and interesting characters from every aspect of this event.

However, once Contagion goes from being about a worldwide epidemic to the way the world falls apart once such a things strikes it,  it begins to coast, running through certain motions without the build that has come before. Some characters disappear completely. Others vanish for long stretches at a time. While some of the in between may not be necessary to show us, it's certainly noticeable when we haven't seen certain characters in a while. Contagion loses its sense of tight editing and attention grabbing, and instead lets some of the loose strands simply flail about unobserved.

Soderbergh has never been a director who instills much emotion into his directorial efforts, either, gifted as he may be. And while melodrama injected into a disaster movie causes it to lean more towards those Irwin Allen movies of the 1970s, an ounce of sentiment in more than a few of the story strands here would have help tremendously. When Damon's husband realizes his wife has died, there's hardly a moment of emotion there. Granted, he's in shock and is hit with another shocking moment just seconds later, but an instance of reflection couldn't have hurt. What we have now to feed off of are Jude Law's impassioned cries that the government is lying to us and one character's final moment where their last act is one of charity.

Instead, Soderbergh piles on the paranoia, the long, cold shots of surfaces the sick have come in contact with, a glass of water someone has drank from. It's all there to make even the most care-free of moviegoers think twice about touching their face - evidently, we do this three to five times every waking minutes, so good lock dealing with that information. For the most part, it works. You certainly think twice about utilizing the five second rule or even using a public restroom after watching Contagion, and the film ends up coming off like it's trying to make interacting with anyone anywhere at any time what Psycho did for showers.

That star-studded cast mentioned earlier gives it their all, though. No one drops the ball in terms of acting, particularly Damon who always brings his A game especially when working with Soderbergh. However, of all the notable actors and actresses in Contagion, it's Jennifer Ehle as a CDC doctor who shines brightest, handling very bit of sincerity in her character without effort and matching it with her own.

Of course, decent enough as Contagion is in its overall execution, the final moments are by far the worst of the film. Without giving too much away, Soderbergh feels the need to hold his audience's hand, how us the catalyst of this epidemic we had pretty much already pieced together for ourselves. While much of the exposition in Contagion is handled smoothly and unnoticed, the final three minutes are an exercise in how not to deliver information.

However, as needlessly explanatory the end of the film is, Contagion ultimately stands as rather successful look of the paranoia, the absolute fear, and the shock of a world that is hit with something it cannot control. The virus at the center of Contagion is scarier than any movie monster, completely invisible and with the ability to strike anyone at any time without compassion. Could Contagion have been scarier? Yes. Could it have been more emotionally impactful? Definitely. But what Steven Soderbergh has given us is a look at the way it could be, probably will be, and the question is drilled into our head as to who we would handle such a moment in time.

Jeremy's Rating: 7 out of 10

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I agree Jeremy, with your words. I think I wold have given the movie a slightly higher score of a 7.5/10. I would have liked to see more of Cotillard in this film, as she looked incredibly stunning though out it. Damon was good, but I would have liked to see more violence in his storyline, besides him yelling at the boyfriend. The acting was more than solid, and the standouts for me were Fishburne and Winslet. *Banana*

DAVIDPD on Sep 13, 2011


Defintely enjoyed Jennifer Ehle's role. Best part of watching the film?  Towards the end of the movie, when things were tense, some guy 2 rows behind us fake sneezed loudly! Oh..and watching the autopsy scene...while trying to eat dinner at the Movie Tavern...definite appetite kill.

Chancey on Sep 13, 2011


I loved the movie, I already have OCD with washing my hand a million times, touching door knobs, and much more. I kept telling my self it was food during the movie. I bet something of something of something and BAM "FOOD". just makes me want to eat out less. ( But will I ?) This movie was scary enough for me. I think what got me the most was the CDC holding people in the state. I would have been very upset, I know they need to control it, but what if you dont nor cant get the virus.. I was a little upset with Winslets part, I wish she would have Spoke more. Much more and told that bitchy lady to shove it. Kate is not one to let someone talk to her that way. I wanted to know what happen to Dr. Cheever being that he didnot take his vaccination, I wanted to know what what Jude law doing ? I was beleiving him then not then then not. He messed with my brain, but wait was that ment to be ? IDK i loved the movie, they could have made the movie a little better I give it a 9 out of 10, I would have loved to known what happen to the people and children in china. They say we live in a free country but thats not true because if something like this happend right now we would be looding and fending for our lives because we are trapped like rats. it is very scary and Its something I hope I am not around for. I just now am going to be a BOG OCDer. I have already had fights over how much of a freak I am. sometimes I have to take a extra shower to feel like I dont have whatever on me. It sucks because honestly and truly the world is our world and animals, humans, parasites,and Amoeba, are all around us wether we like it our not. and maybe just maybe we can't control what happens we can only hope that we have more scientist in the world that can work together and help us before we die.

Tmmullin87 on Sep 13, 2011


I am just curious, but have you been diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by an actual PhD or MD? I am know it has become kind of like a "cool" disease to have in the last decade or so, and so many people throw the disease around like its not that big of a deal, but as you may know, OCD is quite a terrible thing to live with. I have seen cases in which people were driven to mania, hoarding, and the worst case of all, suicide. Best Regards.

DAVIDPD on Sep 13, 2011


Dunno about OCD, but at least you've proven there's nothing cool about aspergers

Richie G on Sep 13, 2011


I haven't seen this yet but have read only good things about it, can't wait for a night off to watch this

Luke Hanna on Sep 13, 2011


I think Gwyneth "contracted", not "concocted" the virus.  Changes her story from being patient zero to evil mastermind who ruins civilization... 🙂

Cheryl Edson on Sep 13, 2011


i could have seen the first 45 minutes and been satisfied, after that it got boring, so much to the point that the ending explanation of the virus being contracted on day one was just too little too late and didnt have the shock and aw feeling that i thought the end and the whole movie would leave me with. 6/10

D13ballin on Sep 14, 2011


Kirk I think you missed the ball. The director was not trying to "hold our hands" and show us how the "epidemic" as you called it, but it was actually a pandemic (Be glad no one is doing a review for your article). Along with the eerie music, it appears that the director was showing us that the vaccination was not going to work, was a fake, or something along those lines. By the way, I noticed the doctor gave herself the vaccination shot in the leg, while everyone else inhaled the vaccination; I wonder if that could be an indicator? I don't know.

Patrick Crandall on Sep 15, 2011


So many spelling/grammar errors it's nuts.

Terry77 on Sep 15, 2011


I just watched this.  Questions that are bugging me and had me searching the net for answers are - "What is the nature of that AIMM Anderson company?" i mean are they supposed to be private, partially funded by Government, what do they actually do? -  At the end it showed their company diggers clearing some forest in China.  In the process, some bats were disturbed, one went for a banana, goes to a piggery to finish it off, unfinished banana fell, piglet munched it, piglet taken to Hong Kong where (this is where it gets me) the chef PUTS HIS HANDS into the piglets mouth wiping its teeth and tongue.   So it was the infected banana that caused it all - right?  Now that goes back to the question - what was AIMM doing in some forest in China?  Experimenting on bio-food/fruit weapon that accidently got leaked out by that bat and a piglet?  I mean for pits sake, out of all the logging or agricultural companies in the world, why does it have to be the one that Gwyneth Paltrow works in?  There's got be at least a link there that i am frustratingly not figuring out.  What was the message here, seriously?  Is Soderberg indirectly trying to imply something here? - hence Judy Law's Alex Jones like character.  What's his email addy, someone.. someone please email the man and ask him this - thanks a lot Soderberg for leaving me bewildered.

Tuimasi Ulu on Dec 17, 2011

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