Film: Contagion (Review of 4/5)

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Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns home from a business trip in Hong Kong feeling tired and ill. Thinking its nothing more than jet lag she continues on as normal but hours later collapses in her husband’s hands (Matt Damon). Beth never recovers and quickly dies in hospital with a medical mystery hanging over what happened.

This is how the film kicks off, on ‘Day 2’ of the epidemic we’re told. The cast quickly expands as the contagion Beth had quickly jumps from citizen to citizen producing a global epidemic.

During the film the science and confusion that might go on in a CDC (Centre for Disease Control) or similar infrastructure during such a breakout is well portrayed and hasn’t been obviously dumbed down. A nice angle that the director has taken to include a lot of biological and virology speak, which will be above everyone’s head. Its an angle that is used throughout the film to make it more believable and to give it its serious edge.

We see as a global network of experts struggle to acknowledge what the contagion is, let alone where it came from, how to produce or even distribute a vaccine.

As the virus spreads to every corner of the world we’re shown and told about a lot of the knock on consequences the event is having on society; such as nurses going on strike as they can’t do anything, conspiracy artists (Jude Law) claiming to have a cure, medical systems collapsing, funeral homes refusing to handle corpses, panic, rioting and fear.

Contagion Scenes of the dead

Some realistic yet upsetting scenes as the dead begin to pile up


Contagion – as time moves every onwards…

As the days continue to roll by, with society crumbling worse every day, trust in the CDC and governments are lost. States of almost martial law are imposed to try and keep the peace.

Soderbergh has put together a fine cast of great actors; such as Laurence Fishbourne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Jude Law. All of these and many others put in a really strong performance and keep the film engaging. When they’re sharing the scene they don’t feel like they’re stealing the light from any of the lesser known actors on.

A solid performance from Fishburne

Contagion is quite different from many thrillers I’ve seen although its difficult to put a reason as to exactly why. It feels very well researched and filmed, with lots of different lives and stories going on simultaneously. I did feel that some scenes weren’t as clear as they could have been, so perhaps some scenes were cut from theatrical release.

One thing I’m very glad about, and which boosts this film from a very high 3 star review to a low-mid 4 star, is that although it focuses mainly on the American* fallout it doesn’t feel like its got the classic ‘America saves the day’ message stamped through it. What I mean by this is that the Americans are as clueless about the virus as everyone else at the beginning, there’s no American hero that rides in and saves everyone, American citizens aren’t seen as more controlled or more sophisticated than others in a panic situation, society crumbles in American just as it does throughout the world, etc. (* I know there is a very well established and known CDC in Atlanta, so I’m completely happy with the reasoning that perhaps Contagion is focused around America for this reason.)


A non-Hollywood moment!

Another nice touch is that there’s no ‘saving grace’ twist, or spin, or large surprises at the end. There’s nothing to make you go, “ohhhh we’ve been mislead for the last 2 hours”. This type of ending is fairly predictable, yet fits so well because that is how it is likely to end.


My conclusion

This film, such as what critics and experts in this area are saying, feels rather close to how I’d assume such events would go down. A good well put together film, although not something I’d recommend people rush out to see. Perhaps get it out on DVD when its price has dropped somewhat.

So not my usual film genre nor a usual ‘thriller’ either. I can see some people being bored stiff, while others highly engaged and caught in a 2 hour suspense film that closely resembles realistic horror. What did you think?


Contagion – how would you react?

If you saw the film, how do you think you’d react if you started seeing similar scenes on your TV or street. If you’ve got a spare minute, tell us how you’d feel if a outbreak such as the one in Contagion broke out. A simple 1-question, anonymous  on going poll I’m running about contagions in the world.


Drop me a comment below if you’ve seen the film, I’d love to hear your views on it.

Categories: Film Reviews, Good Films - 4 Stars

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