Steven Soderbergh’s epidemic outbreak film CONTAGION is a star-studded ensemble drama that features some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Laurence Fishburn. So it’s surprising to learn that although the film has a lot of famous people in it, none of their characters were memorable or inspired the audience to truly care about their plight. Instead, director Steven Soderbergh established a character that stood on its own; the virus. The virus that was spreading through the world and killing off some of the characters served as both the plot element that moved the film and the “character” that gripped the audience. The film moves quickly, so Soderbergh sacrifices character development in favor of plot development, but it works for the overall feel of the film.
The opening sequence is a close-up of things we touch on a regular basis; door handles, steering wheels, cups, etc. This sequence sets the tone for the film and does a fantastic job of slowly making you uncomfortable. The beauty of the film is that you’re not really scared of the virus as much as you’re scared of those things you touch. The virus is spreading quickly and it felt as if we went from seeing a sick Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) to world devastation rather fast, but that was the point; an airborne virus such as this is practically uncontrollable and can infect billions in a short amount of time.
Although we never get attached to any of the characters, all of the actors involved give strong performances, which makes the situation all of them are in much more believable. I could have done without Alan (Jude Law), since his story was more about his taking advantage of the situation and less about the virus. The strength of the film is when it focuses on either the people trying to investigate and stop the virus or the people trying to live with and avoid the virus. I enjoyed the storylines of Mitch (Matt Damon), Dr. Orantes (Marion Cotillard) and Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) the most and thought several times that the film might have been better had it decreased screen time for some characters and increased it for others.
We’ve seen “outbreak” films before, the most notable being the film that was actually called OUTBREAK, but Soderbergh does well by focusing on the technical aspects of how the disease spreads. If you have even an ounce of obsessive compulsive disorder, this film might send you over the edge. The film brings awareness to how many things we touch and how often we touch our face, which makes the virus all that more disturbing. Soderbergh challenges the audience to think about how real of a possibility the entire film is and that’s scarier than any monster or alien we’ve seen on film.
Video: This is another nice transfer from Warner Bros. Soderbergh used a lot of dull, flat colors in the film, but the video quality is high enough to make them look nice.
Audio: No complaints on the audio.
The Reality of Contagion (11:31): Most of the film’s stars sit down and talk at a very macro level about what a virus would mean to the world and how scary the possibility really is.
The Contagion Detectives (04:55): There was a lot of technical research that went into making the film and this quick featurette showcases some of the real world experts and talks about their experiences training the actors. This should have been combined with the first featurette.
Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World (02:01): This is a lightning quick overview of what a virus can do.