Director Steven Soderbergh knows how to create true fear with his newest film, Contagion. Many have compared it to Wolfgang Peterson’s Outbreak, but Contagion succeeds in crafting fear by showing the simplest things like coffee cups and doors. With a fantastic cast, of which none are safe despite their prominent poster appearances, Contagion can be coined as one of the best of the year.
When Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns home from a business trip carrying a deadly virus the whole world is left in fear. As the virus spreads, with no cure or means of containing it, the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations are left scrambling to find a cure amidst the politics. On the ground, Beth’s husband Mitch (Matt Damon) attempts to protect his daughter from the outbreak. With fear and paranoia running rampant, it becomes a question of which is deadlier: the virus or the mobs running in fear?
The first half of this movie is nothing short of excellent. It’s been seen in the trailers that Paltrow dies but she doesn’t disappear from the film, she’s always a lingering presence as the film goes back and shows her contact with people in the days leading up to the epidemic. Soderbergh and crew create an atmosphere of fear, with the camera lingering on cups, door handles and various other places people touch and don’t give a second thought. With knowledge being revealed about how many times people touch their faces, you’ll want to think twice about opening the door of the theater or using their bathroom. The sheer rapidity of the virus is terrifying as the events take place in a little over two weeks before jumping ahead a few months. While not a political film by any stretch the film has a clinical and documentary like tone, especially when it focuses on the government red tape involved in getting a cure out to the millions dying.
The cast aids in creating a tightly wound film about fear and epidemic in this age, all of them bringing a necessary piece that creates a strong ensemble cast. Matt Damon is the human element, the father who is immune to the illness but stuck in fear of his daughter’s life. His character is so innocent to everything that you want him to succeed in controlling the last slice of his old life. Kate Winslet is spell-binding as CDC doctor Erin Mears. Without spoiling what hasn’t been said in the trailer her’s is the most heartbreaking of the stories. Other actors like Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, and John Hawkes are also fully fleshed out characters that weave a great tapestry for the film.
With all the grand notions and wide-scale panic front loaded in the beginning it’s no surprise that the film falters coming to its conclusion. The ending feels a bit too pat and cliché, having been done in other films and not nearly as dark as the beginning would imply. Marion Cotillard is usually a delight but her story is the least developed and just ends with no clear resolution. The wide scale looting and fear applied to Fishburne and his wife is also a somewhat ragged story with no development. It’s also a bit laughable to hear comments like “So and so Twittered” when apparently people are dying left and right.
Despite the lag Contagion is a worthwhile and frightening film with several real-life applications. With a stellar cast and a direction that keeps getting better, make this a film to see, just be sure to wash your hands before and after!