Film Review: Contagion

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Sam Bathe on 17 Oct 2011

The outbreak of a new animal-born virus strain is nothing new in a world that recently battled against the H1N1 pandemic, but it doesn’t mean that the idea isn’t still terrifying.

When a mysterious new disease start to spread across the planet, first breaking out in Hong Kong, then quickly America, Europe and wider Asia, it’s fair to say society breaks into panic; Contagion tells that story from the perspectives right across the spectrum.

One of the first affected while away on business, Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) brings the disease back home, putting her family (Damon, Kane) and local neighbours at risk; Dr. Ellis Cheever (Fishburne) and Dr. Erin Meers (Winslet) are doing their best to find out just what the virus is and task scientists (Ehle, Martin) to produce a vaccine; World Health Organization epidemiologist, Dr. Leonora Orantes (Cotillard) travels to Hong Kong on a fact finding mission; and blogger Alan Krumwiede makes a name for himself denouncing the advice and guidelines passed down by the government.

Contagion is a multi-veined story and director Steven Soderbergh has produced a very tightly helmed picture, and a narrative that somehow billows on without ever feeling disjointed. The tone and aesthetic of the film, however, aren’t quite so cohesive.

Caught between outbreak thriller and political drama, in the end Contagion predictably falls somewhere awkwardly in the middle. The visual style, soundtrack and acting draw to the former, but the narrative, pacing and general mood are much closer to the latter. In the end it feels a little like a Fincher wannabee, rather than boasting its an identity in itself.

It’s to the actors’ and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns’ credit therefore that come the conclusion, Contagion still comes out on the right side of a middling score. As the A-List cast make the film so effortless, thanks to a super-realistic edge and scientifically accurate plot details, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the events. Contagion is mature and intelligent without delving so deep it’ll loose you, and considering t he wealth of big name stars, its $60m budget should be deemed relatively low, so to span to globe in such a way, with some big sets along the way, it’s impressive use of the money.


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