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aka - Steven Soderbergh
USA 2011
Directed by
Steven Soderbergh
105 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Synopsis:  When Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) brings a deadly virus home to the USA after a business trip to Asia, a race begins to find a way to stop it as it spreads exponentially.

"What do you get when you kiss a girl? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia"  (Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

I can’t say I’m familiar with the epidemic movie as a category but Contagion strikes me as a very good example of it. Director Steven Soderbergh, of course, is known for his adventurous work (as well as Erin Brockovich and the Ocean’s trilogy) and this film fits that description well. Although it has the momentum and form of a thriller it is also a studious hypothetical that requires you to pay attention to a considerable amount of science-couched language. Although having a stellar cast, these are very much support players to the lead, which is the disease itself. And, as for most of the film this is a largely a burgeoning and invisible threat, it is fair to say that Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns (who co-write Soderbergh's 2009 film, The Informant!) are keying into the spirit of the psychological horror movie - as the promo poster effectively puts it – “nothing spreads like fear”. Yet, like all good end-of-days scenarios, beyond the actual unfolding of events Contagion is also concerned with how the fear, real or imagined, affects people's behaviour. How some face it with dignity and bravery, some with desperate self-interest and yet others use it as an opportunity to exploit.

Taking all this into account Contagion is an odd experience. The marquee casting that includes, besides Paltrow, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne, the sensationalist title and the plot synopsis suggests a multiplex affair but this is no 28 Days Later (2002) or I Am Legend (2007). Soderbergh’s approach is too serious-minded to offer adrenaline-pumping thrills  - there are no glamorous heroines or world-beating heroes, no rabid ferals or credulity-stretching plot developments, just a blow-by-blow account of how an pandemic might unfold and how it could be contained. It is thorough-going in exposition and sobering, if not outright paranoia-inducing, in affect.

So what is Soderbergh trying to do with his film? Worry us? Warn us? Depress us? I confess I don’t know, but he does it very well.




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