The world is more connected than ever. Thousands of flights occur every day, connecting people from one corner of the globe to the other. Products, materials and food are shipped overseas by the minute. No place is too far away. In other words, it’s the perfect storm for a super virus to wipe out much of humanity, as depicted in the new Steven Soderbergh film Contagion.
Starring Matt Damon among an ensemble cast that includes Gwenyth Patlrow, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law, Contagion looks at the global response to a deadly virus that spreads by contact and kills most people who get infected. The movie looks at how the CDC and other government agencies search for a vaccine and how regular people are affected.
Contagion is an effective and thriller that maintains suspense throughout most of its running time and presents an intriguing and believable premise. Soderbergh’s masterful direction paints the film as a true international drama, methodically following the rise and fall of an invisible, indiscriminate enemy. It’s a disaster movie without explosions.
The acting is top notch, which is none too surprising given all six leads – and some members of the supporting cast – have won or been nominated for an Oscar. The acting only exemplifies the strong writing by Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum).
The movie’s greatest strength – its believability – is also its one weakness. As Contagion moves into the third act, the tension fades as Soderbergh begins to wrap things up in a believable way. He never stops for melodrama or overt excitement; in the real world, things just aren’t as exciting. A few questions and subplots are left unanswered, others underdeveloped.
His approach works most of the time, but Soderbergh had the opportunity to bring certain stories to a more resolute and climactic finish without sacrificing the overall integrity of the film. It’s this shortcoming that keeps Contagion just short of being epic; as good as it is, the third act never achieves greatness.
Nevertheless, Contagion is an intriguing and engaging thriller that elevates the disaster genre to a new level of intelligence, political nuance and believability. It isn’t perfect, but for much of its running time it comes pretty close.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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