Directed: Steven Soderbergh Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 1h 46m Studio: Warner Bros. Screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow
Tell me if this sounds familiar; an animal, a virus, fear, global contagion, millions die, the military is involved, a run on goods at stores, and the entire world stops. So why isn’t this a review of Rise of Planet of the Apes? That’s what you were thinking, right? I understand your confusion. The plot of that film and Contagion is very similar, and Rise debuted in theaters a month before this one.
Dystopian disasters and end-of-the-world films never seem to go out of style. In 2011, Contagion seemed like a dystopian reality that couldn’t actually happen. Then, a decade later, Covid-19 shut the world down. Life imitated art. To watch Contagion now, to sit and view an odd re-telling of a reality we’ve lived through, with its eerily similar accurateness in so many regards, is unsettling.
A woman (Paltrow) travels home from a work trip in Hong Kong. She feels a bit off but chalks it up to jet lag. The C.D.C. and World Health Organization (W.H.O.) are involved within the next few days.
Now, hindsight is a bitch. After living through COVID and watching a movie like this afterward, it would be difficult not to question how certain things are done in this film. However, some basic protocols and procedures, and policies have existed for a long time with groups like the C.D.C. and WHO, so how are they not used in this film? Like C.D.C. employees walking around sick people (especially before you figure out how the virus travels) with no masks on! It’s not like we will forget that actress is Kate Winslet or that actor is Matt Damon.
This film also calls what’s going on an epidemic, when that’s not accurate either. It is, in fact, a pandemic. It’s like no one bothered to proofread medical terms. Dictionaries must have been so hard to come by for some reason in 2011. Digressing from that are the components of this film that resonate with real life (now) all too well. It has pure scientists, skeptics/conspiracy theorists/deniers, governments, angry crowds, looters, scavengers, and piles of dead people. With all that going on, there’s still a well-written script, acting, and set designs (such as they are). It also has a great, simple explanation for how a virus travels and how contagious (or not) it may be in a way I never heard someone say during the real-life pandemic.
The overall atmosphere of Contagion is excellent, without taking itself too seriously despite the heavy subject matter. The cast is terrific, not just with the delivery of their lines but the emotional resonance behind them. Cotillard’s Dr. Leonora Orantes, Ehle’s Ally Hextall, Winslet’s Dr. Erin Mears, and Fishburne’s Dr. Ellis Cheever get the lion’s share of the screen time, and they are all wonderful with the material they are given.
Winslet and Cotillard play epidemiologists, and they both deliver a performance that makes me feel for those that do this job in real life. I was more interested in those characters than in Matt Damon’s. His character represents the average person’s reaction to such an event. Perhaps I’m jaded after the last few years, but as a viewer, I liked the informational perspective, mainly because that wasn’t my reality. With a film like Contagion, people will take away something a little different from others, and that’s okay. Soderbergh packs a ton into this film.
Alan Krumwiede’s (Law) denier mentality is tame compared to real life, yet his tactics via his blog and interviews are spot on. Jude Law doesn’t get as much screen time as the other characters, but his character’s inclusion breaks up everything else to help with flow. One might think his character is the antagonist, but he’s not; the virus is. You can’t yell, shoot, or negotiate with a virus, and its ‘agenda’ (if you will) doesn’t discriminate against whom it goes after.
This isn’t an action disaster film. There are no mobs hoarding supplies protected by large groups like in The Walking Dead; it’s a slow unfolding of events in a manner not usual for this genre. Yet it works. I particularly like how the film hops from one location to another around the globe to show how the virus is perceived by other cultures and how they handle it.
The trailer for this film is well done too. It gives you enough relevant information to tell you about what you’ll be watching but gives nothing important away. The tone-setting music is perfect as well. It may not be something everyone wants to watch after the past few years, but at some point, Contagion is worthy of a place on your watchlist.
-A Pen Lady