Release date: September 9th, 2011
Running time: 106 minutes
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, and Gwyneth Paltrow
Movies about the end of the world have always been popular. Films have predicted our end at the hands of robots, aliens, nuclear war, even apes. Sometimes the most effective apocalyptic films are the ones with simple explanations of our destruction, like Children of Men. While that film showed mass infertility as the threat to human existence, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion presents an even simpler threat; a virus.
I haven’t seen a Soderbergh film in a long time, but Contagion was still one of my most anticipated films of the year. The premise intrigued me and the cast looked awesome. I also loved the marketing for the film. The posters looked cool and the trailer was badass. So going into Contagion, I truly expected to see one of the best films of the year.
The plot is very simple. A viral outbreak starts to occur in countries all over the world and people start dropping like flies. The film follows several people as they try to deal with the outbreak. These include Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) who’s wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) was one of the first people infected, Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), a doctor investigating the virus who sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to investigate, a blogger named Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), and more.
It doesn’t take long for the virus to break out. However, it does take the film awhile to catch up. There’s a certain tension I found missing from the first half of the film. The pace of the film in general was off. The film doesn’t do the best job balancing all these characters. I love Marion Cotillard, but her character did not need to be in this, and to a certain extent, neither did Kate Winslet. On top of that, none of these stories are brought to a real satisfying conclusion.
With that said, all of the actors do a very good job. Matt Damon and Jude Law in particular sold out. Matt Damon plays a very quiet character who has to hold a lot of pain inside. It’s a subtle performance, but I found it very compelling. Jude Law plays a more colourful character, an eccentric blogger fighting against the big corporations. Law is a lot of fun to watch and the fact that he leaves a mark while being in such a star studded cast is a testament to how good he is. I have no complaints about the cast though, I thought everyone was good.
While the film could be hit or miss, when it did hit, it hit hard. I loved all the scenes where the world started really going to hell. They were tense, dark, and scary. The major reason for this is Soderbergh’s direction. While I think he struggled to make a consistent film, the man did put together some damn good scenes. The film actually works very well on a technical level. I found the cinematography gorgeous, in a very dark way, and the music really haunting. Individual scenes are cut very well, even if the overall pacing is off.
The film does attempt to have some deeper themes. One of which is the way fear and depression can break a society. I do find these interesting, but I felt the film could have done more with this. A theme I did find coming across well was the power social media has in our world. This is shown through Jude Law’s character, who gains a considerable amount of power through his website after the virus breaks.
There’s a lot to like about Contagion, I would even say there’s a lot to love. But the film has trouble balancing so many characters, the pacing is off, it takes too long for the film to kick into high gear, and the their isn’t any resolution to any of the character’s stories. I like Contagion, but it feels like it could have been a lot better.