Movie Review – ‘Contagion’

Review by J.T. Johnson


DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Steven Soderbergh
WRITER: Scott Z. Burns
MUSIC: Cliff Martinez

Quick, take a moment to think about all of the things people touch in their daily lives. Now, add things like iPods and the thousands of smart phones and tablets with some form of touch technology. Then add a world-devastating virus that is contracted by touch and imagine the terror that it would produce among the population of the world.

This is the primary focus of director Steven Soderbergh’s latest feature film, “Contagion”. The film begins right away on the second day of the initial outbreak with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow). She’s not feeling too well and she’s not alone as the film quickly reveals that other people around the world are feeling the same symptoms.

Soon, it becomes apparent that a new infection is on the loose. In response, several scientists including CDC Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) and World Health Organization Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) race to find out what caused the virus and where it started. The military is called in to quarantine the areas with the most infections and innocent people such as Beth’s husband Mitch (Matt Damon) find themselves under lockdown.

The greatest thing about this film is the fact that it doesn’t waste time getting started. The musical score by Cliff Martinez helps set the mood and the search for the virus plays like a mystery movie with the virus as the elusive killer. It also doesn’t play it safe and even kids are in danger of this latest epidemic.

Soderbergh’s talents as a director are on full display here. The film looks as grim as the situations the characters find themselves in. It is actually reminiscent of Soderbergh’s 2000 film “Traffic”.

For the first half of the film, there is a real sense of panic. This is emphasized more by Mitch’s attempt to protect his daughter who has yet to be infected. Also, there are several scenarios where Soderbergh shows the audience just how many things people touch in the span of a few minutes. This also helps set the mood.

Then the problems with the film become extremely apparent. First off, there are way too many characters in this film for the audience to care about any one of them. There are sub-plots that are forgotten and when the narrative decides to visit them again, the audience realizes that they’ve forgotten those elements as well. This includes the scenes featuring the ultimately wasted talents of Cotillard.

Also, the mystery behind the virus quickly takes a back seat to the political melodrama with topics such as who would get the vaccine first should one finally be discovered. Should the normal American get it first or the politician who was just infected? With so many people dying, where does the cure begin?

Granted, one must concede that this is a realistic observation. The writers should be commended for tackling elements that would normally be ignored in other films on this subject. However, it’s ultimately not that entertaining in a film that quickly becomes bogged down by needless social commentary.

While the cast features several talented stars and Soderbergh’s trademark directing style, none of them can ultimately save the film. It starts off strong, but it ultimately loses momentum with its preachy commentary.

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