The bad times begin with Beth Emhoff’s (Gwyneth Paltrow) unfortunate Hong Kong business trip. She returns to the states a sweaty coughing mess. Back at the Minnesota home she shares with her hubby Mitch (Matt Damon) and young son, her condition worsens. After she collapses and convulses on the kitchen floor Mitch rushes her to the hospital.
Meanwhile reports filter in from Hong Kong. There’s an Internet video of someone convulsing, then dying on a public bus. Soon the Center for Disease Control (the CDC) in Atlanta springs into action. Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishbourne) sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minnesota.
The World Health Organization dispatches Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) to Hong Kong to find patient zero. Scientists at the CDC (Jennifer Ehle and Demetri Martin) try to create a vaccine to battle this highly contagious new virus.
As things get worse, Soderbergh isn’t shy in exploring the selfishness of human nature as the fight for survival becomes increasingly dire.
The media angle is also explored using a conspiracy theorist blogger played by Jude Law, posing theories on media cover-ups and exaggeration and the scientific and medical industry’s unwillingness to tell the truth.
The approach to the character is initially interesting, but he soon becomes overbearing and unbelievable to the point I increasingly lost interest.
In addition to the writing, the cast deserves a significant amount of praise for they all make their characters seem real, giving the film more of a firsthand feel as opposed to the aforementioned news reports, which are far more one-dimensional. Of the headliners, Damon and Winslet are the most compelling.
The best performance comes from Kate Winslet as an on-the-ground young doctor working under Laurence Fishburne at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Winslet’s character is out among the infected, doing what she can to stop the spread of the disease and set up quarantines and shelters. She’s commanding in the role, and yet vulnerable. The vulnerability comes through not only in the fact she’s risking her life, but also by her performance.
The only character that feels misplaced is Marion Cotillard’s Dr. Leonora Orantes. She’s in Hong Kong trying to find the focal point of the pandemic, but then gets swept up in a bit of a thriller. Whereas every other character is consumed by the spread of the virus, her situation becomes a bit too much about the crime, which doesn’t gel with the film as a whole.
Soderbergh’s unique style that really helps set Contagion apart. His camera doesn’t move very much, but the film is packed with intriguing angles, the most notable of which is the vast amount of overhead wide shots which beautifully correlate to the virus’ expansive attack. In terms of tone, Contagion is quite the achievement as Soderbergh is handling a variety of separate stories.
Attention to detail in Contagion is above and beyond thanks to tons of research put in by Soderbergh and the film’s screenwriter Scott Z. Burns.
Something that really solidifies Contagion as a successful film is its lasting impact. This isn’t an experience you can easily put behind you, both in terms of the story as a whole and the more intimate elements.
You become so invested in these characters, it’s impossible not to wonder where they’ll go next and then, of course, the ease with which a pandemic like this could occur is just incredibly disconcerting. [via The New York Times, Shockya, We Are Movie Geeks and Rope of Silicon]