Contagion

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet
Runtime: 106 minutes
Rating: * * *

It’s a cliché, but the world really is getting smaller every day and it’s unsurprising that films like Contagion come along every so often to remind us of this; especially when in recent years we’ve had so many pandemic scares. If the odd news item on the subject makes you uneasy, perhaps this film isn’t the best choice. If not however, you might feel something a little less than abject terror.

That doesn’t mean to say that the film itself is terrible; it’s not – but as with all thrillers, unless the story, the characters, indeed, even the basic premise itself, really manage to reach inside your head and play with your fears (which are all highly subjective, of course), it isn’t exactly brilliant either. With films like Contagion, hitting the nail on the head can be very hard: they can only really be thrilling if they are compelling enough to drag you along with them. If they don’t strike that chord within you, they can fall a little flat.

The basic plot is this: there’s a virus, one person gets sick, more people get sick, lots of people die, and some other people run around like headless chickens looking for a cure as the virus spreads and the death toll climbs. It doesn’t leave very much to the imagination and it doesn’t take very long to figure out where the film is going.
However, whilst large sections of this film may be described as grim, intense and a little predictable (think people stomping around in protective suits looking serious, bodies lined up in mass-graves, mass-panic over limited supplies of potential cures and widespread looting), there are occasionally touching moments which remind us that the characters in this story aren’t just devices with which we are shown how quickly humanity can be brought to its knees by a few little germs.

There’s the struggle of Mitch Emhoff (Damon) to understand that this whole disaster started because his wife Beth (Paltrow) cheated on him on a layover, to cope with her death and his son’s; his desperate attempt to make sure his daughter doesn’t share that fate is particularly poignant. Dr Erin Mears (Winslet) placing herself in harm’s way to try and understand more about the contagion is admirable (or stupid, I haven’t decided yet). Jude Law, as the inquisitorial blogger Alan Krumwiede also delivers a very solid performance; a nasty piece of work through and through, motivated not only by his own self-righteousness, but also by groping avarice: to use the adage, we love to hate him.

The bottom line is that this film is entertaining rather than thrilling (unless of course you’re a germaphobe, in which case it may well be torturous). It does raise some very interesting questions about personal hygiene and global disaster management, but ultimately I found it to be more of an enjoyable romp through a worst-case scenario. Who doesn’t enjoy a little doom and gloom now and again?

Watching Gwyneth Paltrow writhing around on the floor and foaming at the mouth: schadenfreude at its very best.

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