Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 – Addendum
One of the nice things about getting a complimentary copy of Contagion on Blu-ray from Warner Bros. is that I can use the money I saved, to stock up on the hand sanitizer I’ll need after watching it. Contagion is a picture that gets under your skin by exploiting something that I think is innate in everyone – a fear of germs. I mean if you didn’t have a virus phobia prior to viewing this, you will. Those “employees must wash hands before returning to work” signs posted in restrooms will take a whole new meaning. In 2011, Contagion became Steven Soderbergh’s biggest hit since Ocean’s Thirteen in 2007 and you’d have to go all the way back to 2000’s Traffic for a bigger hit outside of his Ocean’s series. It’s easy to see why. It’s a masterfully constructed film. Oh and that incredible cast doesn’t hurt either.
Contagion is a thriller that traces the origin of an unknown deadly disease as it spreads from person to person traveling at a rapid rate infecting humanity. We follow the virus at it becomes a pandemic. From Hong Kong to Minneapolis to London to San Francisco, we see various cities and how the sickness multiplies exponentially throughout the population. Around the world, doctors from the CDC and the World Health Organization race to find a cure for an infection that kills within days.
The narrative unfolds intelligently. You’ll be riveted for the majority of the picture. The transmission of the virus is the most unsettling part. Frightening because it could genuinely happen. Circulated through causal contact – a glass, an elevator button, a subway pole, it’s unstoppable. You’ll think twice the next time you graze a public surface and then touch your face. It’s invisible so the threat is particularly hard to protect against. Disease is mysterious. The plot flawlessly instills that fear. The action is lean and unadorned. There isn’t a lot of flashy embellishments getting in the way of its expertly told tale. It’s not as commercially accessible as 1995’s Outbreak for example. Contagion has a somewhat documentary mood to it with its somber tone. That’s a wise choice given the subject matter. And while the simplicity benefits the material, in the end, it all feels a little insubstantial. Perhaps the climax doesn’t quite justify the buildup.
There is a huge amount of talent in front of the camera. Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Winslet appear. The story by scribe Scott Z. Burns is well written to be sure. It’s rather informative actually. But while the script is convincing, it doesn’t really allow anyone to give an unqualified performance. I suspect the reason behind the impressive cast assembled, is the director involved. It’s nice to see Steven Soderbergh back making an unabashedly entertaining film. He hasn’t had an audience pleasing hit this big since Ocean’s Thirteen. You might remember Steven Soderbergh as the guy who first directed Erin Brockovich in early 2000 then followed it up in the very same year with Traffic. He’s talented to say the least. While Contagion isn’t as brilliant as either of those accomplishments, it is a stylishly compelling piece of entertainment. He does a clever job of creating a thriller that will truly get under your skin. While watching I was disturbed when I heard coughing in the theater. Now that’s true horror.