daniel cohen explores Steven Soderbergh’s star-studded disaster film …
Plot: A new virus starts claiming the lives of millions. The Government enlists Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and his team at the Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) to find a cure as the virus spreads rapidly across the world.
I found myself washing my hands vigorously and grabbing all the purell I could after watching Contagion, the new virus themed thriller from acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh. The virus in this film is contracted by touch, and they really harp on making sure everyone washes their hands and wears a mask, so naturally, it’s probably going to freak people out. I guess it worked on me. I think the film is a virus in itself though, but I mean that in a good way. Every time a big name actor shows up, two more appear in the next scene. And so on. And so on. It felt like they were multiplying, because this movie has some damn good actors.
Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, John Hawkes, Jude Law, and even guys like Bryan Cranston and Elliott Gould pop up in small roles. But they are all superb. The brilliance of this movie is its focus on all the different situations this virus creates. We see characters that try and cure the disease. Marion Cotillard’s character travels to Hong Kong to discover its origin. Jude Law plays a blogger who spouts out Government conspiracies. We get the more personal side with the Matt Damon character and how this virus affects his family. Mitch Emhoff (Damon) is probably the most sympathetic and who the audience will most likely gravitate towards. As the chaos and fear grows over this virus, Mitch handles it in a calm and rational manner despite everything this virus has taken from him. That’s why you root for him so much. He just wants to keep his daughter (Anna Jacoby-Heron) safe.
Dr. Cheever (Fishburne) is also an intriguing character. The entire weight of the world is basically on this guy … yikes. He’s the one out in public giving the World updates on where they are with fighting this virus. I also felt for Kate Winslet’s character, Dr. Erin Mears. She goes out into the field in Minnesota, one of the most infected areas, and is completely dedicated to isolating the virus, quarantining and treating all who are affected. And even though a lot of these characters are in quick scenes, you really get a sense of who they are, sympathizing with them in a short amount of time. Some of the storylines work better than others, but it succeeds more often than not.
Soderbergh’s directing, along with the editing, are magnificent. There are so many people to keep track of, and when they aren’t on screen, you’ll forget what they were doing. But when they pop up again, you’ll instantly remember what their situation was and how they fit into this story. It reminds you a lot of Soderbergh’s past work like Traffic and Ocean’s 11. There’s a ton of crap going on, but Soderbergh keeps track of everything so well, doing most of the work for you as we can just sit back and enjoy the film.
Speaking of Ocean’s 11, there are moments where Soderbergh’s directing doesn’t fit the tone of the movie. At times the editing was too slick, like in an Ocean’s movie. And the music was also similar to those films. It just doesn’t work. After all, this isn’t a movie about robbing a casino — it’s about a deadly virus. But those moments were far and few between.
The pacing is very fast, especially in the beginning. We barely get to know these characters, but we are thrown right into an emotional whirlwind. There’s an early scene where Mitch’s wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) has a really intense seizer. The pacing really works for this movie though as it builds towards the panic and chaos seamlessly. And that’s when the story really ramps up its intensity. The last act does move a bit slow however. A lot of the character stories get repetitive. Overall, though, it wraps up quite nicely.
Despite the fact that this movie has now made me a germaphobe, I really enjoyed Contagion and watching all these great actors own the screen. While the virus takes center stage in the film, it’s ultimately about the characters, and that’s what I loved.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)