Chilling and convincing thriller about a world-ravaging pandemic

Coughs and sneezes spread diseases. As do handshakes, credit cards and peanuts in Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s chilling, convincing thriller about a world-ravaging pandemic. Catching viewers as much as characters on the hop, it’s a ‘Whatdunnit?’ that opens, ominously, with ‘Day 2’ and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Beth looking very ill. No spoilers, but there’s no point sending her a get well soon card.

Soon enough, disease-chasing doctor Kate Winslet is developing a nasty tickle. If Oscar-winning actresses aren’t safe, what hope for the rest of us? Contagion alarms, but it’s not alarmist. Soderbergh’s characteristic cool head serves him well as the plot swerves from hotspot to hotspot (Minneapolis, Hong Kong, Paris, London…), mapping out a full-blown crisis in a manner that’s informed, restrained and responsible.

Despite all the stars – this is the Valentine’s Day of virus movies (and just as liable to spin your stomach) – there’s no disaster flick glamour. Heroism here is a matter of midnight donkeywork (scientist Jennifer Ehle, researching remedies) or quiet vigilance (everyman Matt Damon, a widower looking out for his daughter while the suburbs go to pot in scenes that’ll especially rattle UK audiences, post riots).

The closest thing to a showboat is Jude Law, rocking a fake snaggletooth and funny walk as a guerrilla blogger who spreads panic in his pursuit of truth. While a little of Law’s shit-stirring goes a long way, others aren’t so lucky. Marion Cotillard for example, whose WHO worker gets a beginning, an end but little middle to her promising arc. Soderbergh’s maintenance of mundane realism prompts it-could-be-you shivers; on the other hand, you never really give much of a monkey’s about anyone.

The litany of consequences – misinformation, self-interest, social breakdown, death – is never less than bleakly compelling. But unlike Soderbergh’s Traffic – Contagion’s war-on-drugs counterpart – there’s a sense of depth sacrificed for breadth. Too many subplots, too much scope, too tight an edit. And given that Contagion won’t be many punters’ idea of a fun night at the pictures, you have to wonder whether it would have satisfied more expanded and unpacked over several nights as a miniseries. At least watching at home you’d be less paranoid about who else has been touching the doorknobs…


A level-headed take on a topic that’s often an excuse for madness and melodrama. You’ll be engrossed and grossed-out, but may suspect there’s a ton of footage under quarantine until the Blu-ray.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • helaumur

      Oct 25th 2011, 19:41


      if i had known that Soderbergh was the director i would not have wasted the £5.75 to see this slow, poorly acted boring film. Solaris was dull, Contagion, this was two hours of pure tedium, no character engagement, no facial reactions, Jude Law, is he South African or Austrailian and even saying "Crikey" to confirm is poor Australian accent. This was no where as exciting as Outbreak, the characters and the actors were as stiff as the mountains of bodies that were piling up, too long, too slow, just awful and poor Matt Damon trying to make the best of a poor script and lack of engagement, Soderbergh, you should find another job, possibly at a sleep study centre where they show your films. Or a funeral parlour to liven you up a bit. Awful.

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    • barneystinson

      Oct 26th 2011, 10:54


      Yes, its slow paced but this is the most realistic, non-sensationalist, taught and wonderfully acted film about a killer virus you could hope for. Its almost documentary like in its take on how the world would respond to such an outbreak. I loved the fact that, despite Damon's (spoiler alert) immunity to the virus, he didn't end up doing the normal Hollywood thing of becoming some kind of hero instead holing himself up in his home with his daughter he became the rational voice of all of us confronted with a similar situation. If you want huge, dumb action then watch Outbreak - its enjoyable, but totally ridiculous. Jude Law's weasly portrayal of a "dollar-signs in the eyes" blogger was perfect (yes the accent was strange but not enough to truly jar), Larry Fishburne was immense (and not just in his physical size...which was man montain like), Winslet (normally someone I can't stand) was totally believable and had some beautifully poignant moments (not least the phone-call she makes in the hotel) but there were strong performances all over the park. But this is isn't a film just concerned with the characters. Its a global threat and Soderbergh delivers a sense of menace without ever having to resort to showy hysterics. There are several plot points that remind me of World War Z so if the movie version of that creates the same realism (albeit with Zombies) we'll be in for a treat. Only one thing bugged me - a line about body bags running out "two days ago" - it was unnecessary considering the characters involved with the conversation would have been aware two days ago of the shortage. A minor blip on an otherwise excellent movie. 4.5 out of 5

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    • aragorn01

      Oct 27th 2011, 6:23

      hmmm...just like any good old fashioned, all-star disaster flick, this bound to draw a lot of negative responses. but, the soderbergh movie i can't wait to see is not this, but next year's actioner, HAYWIRE, with the american gladiatrix, Gina Carano. it's also got Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor and MIchael Fassbender as supporting players.

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    • Hybrid

      Nov 3rd 2011, 2:15


      Boring, slow-paced, pretentious, nonsensical, and anything but engaging. Maybe the worst film I've ever had the displeasure of paying to see at the flicks, and I've seen the Midnight Meat Train.

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