Contagion (2011)

One of the most realistic movies about a global pandemic outbreak, though Soderbergh’s film suffers from a rather lacklustre pacing and underdeveloped characters.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #654

Dir. Steven Soderbergh
2011 | USA | Drama/Thriller | 105 mins | 1.85:1 | English, Mandarin & Cantonese

PG13 (passed clean) for disturbing content and some language

Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet
Plot: Healthcare professionals, government officials and everyday people find themselves in the midst of a worldwide epidemic as the CDC works to find a cure.
Awards: Official Selection (Venice)
Distributor: Warner Bros

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Pandemic Outbreak
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 31 Aug 2011
Spoilers: No


Contagion is one of the year’s more anticipated films, helmed by a master filmmaker who has made a wide variety of films in different genres for more than 20 years now.  

In mainstream circles, he is well-known for directing the ‘Ocean’s’ (2001, 2004, 2007) trilogy, though the name Steven Soderbergh has been lauded more in the American independent cinema scene than anywhere else. 

This brings us to Contagion, a commercial effort no less that will also be screened in the IMAX format. This implies that it is not only a film to be seen but to be experienced as well.  Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by what was presented on screen.  

When a film that proudly markets its tagline as “nothing spreads like fear” is inexplicably dull, it is sure to be a disappointing, or at best, average experience. 

Contagion features one of the strongest ensemble casts committed to a Hollywood production in years – Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet.  Even John Hawkes, who was nominated for an Oscar for a supporting role in Winter’s Bone (2010), makes a cameo appearance as a janitor. 

“We’re working very hard to find out where this virus came from.”

The strength of the cast is sadly weakened by the film‟s loose approach to its narrative.  No particular actor is outstanding here as not enough screen time is given to them to perform.  There is also one character too many, causing our attention to split.

This lack of character focus is one of Contagion’s flaws, yet it is its pacing that is the biggest problem.  The surprising lack of urgency makes this a relatively pedestrian film that is sometimes guilty of ignoring the audience’s need for excitement.  

I appreciate, however, the effort the filmmakers have made to stay true to realism, by which I mean the film’s depiction of what actually goes on behind the scenes in bioresearch labs and how organisations such as the World Health Organisation would reasonably tackle deadly epidemics such as the one presented in Contagion.

Soderbergh, whose previous works have been relatively liberal either in content or in filmmaking style, has chosen to adopt a more conservative approach to handling Contagion. “The government is always right” seems to be the mantra and any radical notion espoused by bloggers (represented by Law’s character) trying to seek the truth is tossed into flames. 

Grade: B-


Trailer:

Music:

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