Film Review: Contagion

(Read this in my publication In Retrospect – Issue 3 and in my student newspaper, Flex)


Linking to my previous review for British thriller Retreat, starring Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton and Jamie Bell which you can read here, Contagion is the second film to be released this month that explores the widespread of a killer virus. As an American take on the genre, Contagion tackles the situation in a completely different way, concluding in a seemingly more optimistic outcome and looking at the effects of a virus globally.

Contagion, directed by Steven Soderbergh, follows the rapid spread of a lethal virus caught through indirect contact. As the fast-moving pandemic grows, we see how a variety of people deal with the situation, including worldwide medical team members, Dr Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard), Dr Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), journalist Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), and parents Mitch (Matt Damon) and Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow). With a race to find a cure and to control the panic as the world turns to mayhem, we see the lengths these people go to in order to save the world whilst having to maintain their own reputations at the same time.

The film premiered at this year’s Venice Film Festival and has since resulted in everybody talking about its realistic nature. That’s why this film has been so successful. When a disease such as Swine Flu begins to spread, this is how the situation would be dealt with, with the film focusing on the science involved in combating such a virus. It’s not until the final scene of the film that we find out how the virus was first transferred, as a test tube labelled MEV-1 is put in a freezer alongside SARS. Until then, we see the development of links between the first people to catch the virus, opening with Gwyneth Paltrow looking a bit under-the-weather when returning to America from a business trip in Hong Kong.

In contrast to Retreat, Contagion works better because of the way it is produced. There’s no lag between scenes and conversations that we don’t need to hear are presented in agile, visual slideshows; we don’t have to sit through anything uninteresting or be confused by medical jargon, and this swiftness is what keeps the audience engaged.

This again works through the all-star cast who, even as big names we recognise, do not all know each other. Only a few of these characters ever meet, so we are constantly weaving in and out of their lives as we figure out their relationships for ourselves. All of the characters give strong performances but for me, it was Matt Damon that stood out in this film. Damon, portraying a father figure who is left to protect his teenage daughter when his wife (Paltrow) and younger son fall to the illness, expresses a deep emotion in his character. We don’t often see Damon as a family member, but he really makes this role work, which is why he stands out from the rest of the cast.

Whilst Contagion is unlikely to win any awards, it certainly made me conscious of how many times I touched my face whilst sat in the cinema. Fortunately, I returned home without any unwanted sniffles so for now, we are safe.

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