Film Review: Contagion

Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is a disturbingly plausible experiment. The film is successful because it is able to sustain a sense of tension throughout.

A woman returns from Hong Kong via Chicago feeling ill with flu-like symptoms. A man collapses on a bus in Tokyo, and a young model is found dead in her London hotel. These three and other people are displaying similar symptoms of a deadly illness that is spreading throughout the world. The CDC sends doctors across the globe to try and contain the outbreak…

Contagion is very timely in its release. After the various outbreaks in the last few years, Soderbergh’s film explores the potential outcomes if such an illness did spread globally. Although people have died from outbreaks such as swine flu, these have been contained to certain areas and casualties have been relatively low in number. What Contagion does is amplify fears of the worse case scenarios in these type of cases.

The film takes place in various different locations, reflecting just how global a crisis it is. The different stories work well overall, with writer Scott Z. Burns attempting to exhibit different aspects to such an outbreak. Contagion works on the personal civilian level, with stories such as Mitch and his family, as well as on a wide scale, focusing on one of the CDC’s main players. Some of these strands are given more depth and duration than others, which is a necessary format. All the stories appear realistic, even the blogger’s strand is plausible given the freedom and power of the internet.

The tone of Contagion is almost unrelentingly serious. This is necessary in order to sustain tension. There are a couple of moments in the film which are rather soppy, but Contagion delivers a stark atmosphere more generally. There are moments in the film which are chilling; the automated telephone options being the most memorable of these.

Contagion boasts an excellent cast, and performances are solid for the most part. Laurence Fishburne is well cast as Dr Cheever, while Matt Damon is believable as Mitch. Jude Law is rather hammy as blogger Alan, but others such as Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Ehle deliver strong performances.

With the themes of the film being matched by the sober palette, Soderbergh’s film has a distinctive feel. Contagion is a very competent film, even if it is likely to bring out Howard Hughes tendencies in viewers.

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