Contagion FILM REVIEW
Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down
Release Date: 21 October 2011
12A | 106 minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle
Given how much he enjoys ticking off different genres like an excitable child filling in the pages of an I Spy book, it’s somehow not that shocking to find Steven Soderbergh tackling the sort of subject matter you used to see showing up in ‘70s thrillers or star-heavy Irwin Allen disasteramas. But this is something fresh, with Soderbergh and writer Scott Z Burns choosing instead to take a brutally realistic look at a pandemic.
The (literally) killer concept finds a nasty infection spreading across the world. We’re introduced to Gwyneth Paltrow’s corporate type Beth Emhoff, returning from a business trip with a serious case of the lurgy. Husband Mitch (Matt Damon) is powerless to help as she slips into a coma and quickly dies (for those concerned about spoilers, this is a) in the trailer and b) happens in the first few minutes of the film). From there, the various strains of the story take off, going global as we track various scientists and doctors trying to combat the new threat, and check in on ordinary people whose lives are affected. Plus in a twist that paranoia-pumped past thrillers could only dream of, we watch how social media plays a part, with Jude Law’s bio-blogger causing trouble by hyping up a homeopathic remedy and questioning the government’s response at every turn.
The visual palette is stark and sombre, which just adds to the sense of tension as society crumbles. Among the more memorable images are a gruesome, thankfully brief brain autopsy and Law stalking deserted streets in a protective suit, looking for all the world like an alien picking through the aftermath of an invasion. He’s just one example of Soderbergh stocking the cast with award-winners happy to eschew film star glamour for sweaty, scary drama as the clock ticks inexorably onwards and the death toll rises. It’s hard to pick standouts, but Kate Winslet is predictably great and Laurence Fishburne, as a senior doctor at the Centre for Disease Control, offers a great turn as an authority figure thrown into scandal even as he tries to keep the effort to develop a vaccine on track.
Contagion’s not the feel-good movie of the year, then, but it’s effective, compelling and smart and will have you twitching at every cough you hear for days afterwards.
Watch clips from Contagion, then test your knowledge of fictional viral apocalypses by taking our quiz.