I’m still washing my hands at least 20 times a day after watching Contagion last week.
This medical thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh plays out like a horror movie because of how possible it might just become reality some day. The film begins on day two of a new, highly infectious and deadly disease outbreak and follows several key characters from different walks of life as they fight for survival — of their own lives and that of the human race.
Soderbergh is known for his amazing ensemble casts, and Contagion is no different. No single actor or actress dominates, but there is enough screen time in this 106 minute film to fit in significant roles for the likes of Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes (remember him from Winter’s Bone), amongst others, including my new favourite actor, Bryan Cranston (I’ve recently become addicted to the sickeningly great Breaking Bad — and it took me almost a full season to realise that he’s Tim Whatley from Seinfeld!). Ensemble casts are ordinarily troublesome but every actor in this film played their part perfectly and without trying to steal the show, resulting in an awesome experience where you are constantly watching an A-lister without feeling overwhelmed by the fact.
There have been several ‘outbreak’ films in the past (Outbreak being one of them), but Contagion surely has to be one of the better ones, and certainly one more the most realistic. It looks at how different people deal with the news of the infections, how the government tries to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, how it seeks to contain it, and how certain people may try to profit out of it — on an international scale.
Soderbergh controls the film at a deliberate pace — fast enough to not get bored but considerate enough to allow the audience to appreciate the magnitude of the events. Contagion tackles numerous themes and gives viewers plenty to think about if, god forbid, this film became reality — loss of social order, public vs personal interests, wealthy countries vs poor countries, and the systems governments have in place to deal with and control sudden mass deaths and mass hysteria. It’s actually all quite fascinating. And yet, despite these potentially heavy themes, the film is rarely bogged down and manages to keep the focus on the characters.
As an ensemble cast film, Contagion obviously struggles to provide the deeper emotional impact some top-notch single protagonist films can, but I think overall it was done well enough to provide an entertaining and thought-provoking viewing experience.
4 stars out of 5