Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Scott Z. Burns
Starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law
Release date 21st October 2011
Even going in with the knowledge that this was a prestige drama and not the horror movie it’s been bafflingly marketed as in some circles, there’s a definite sense of a lack of incident to Contagion, the latest from Steven Soderbergh. With several largely unconnected storylines all springing from a single event like a reverse Crash, there’s a sense of waiting for storylines to cross over in ways that never really materialise. This sense of disconnectedness is presumably intentional, a way to show how a single event (in this case the infection of Gwyneth Paltrow’s businesswoman character with a previously undiscovered virus which proceeds to run roughshod over the global population) can touch many people without them even knowing it. However it results in a film that feels cold and lacking in humanity.
Also troublesome is the casting. Soderbergh is of course known for his ensembles, casting skilfully to type. In Contagion’s case the star power on display works against the verisimilitude of the story. We are constatntly reminded that we are watching a movie by a series of “oh look, it’s him/her” moments. For example it’s impossible not to think of the events of the film as being triggered by the death of a Gwyneth Paltrow cameo rather than a person. An unknown may have been better suited to this pivotal role, one which is frankly too small in terms of screen time to justify the casting of such a big star as anything other than a stunt.
However all of this is of little significance when compared to the Contagion’s biggest problems: Contagion is a very very boring film and actually a surprisingly dumb one. The script seems to be crammed with medical jargon, again distancing the layman from events. Character arcs start up and seem to peter out to nothing, in particular Jude Law’s ridiculously popular “truth” blogger.
It’s difficult to tell if this is intentional but Contagion contains virtually every beat and trope that the apocalyptic popcorn movies of Roland Emmerich are frequently chastised for: the expert who has trouble being listened to despite having expertise in the precise field in question, the heroic sacrifice, the noble-but-wisecracking scientist. Somewhere in the universe of Contagion Will Smith is being chased on a motorcycle by a virus cloud and we’re missing it.
Though it is not without it’s good points, Matt Damon’s underexplored family man being prime among them, Contagion is in the final analysis an fairly empty exercise in paranoia without much to recommend it beyond it’s pedigree.