Contagion Review

Film Still
  • Contagion film still


Entertaining and spooky, but less than the sum of its parts.

Contagion is a multi-strand drama centred on a global pandemic set to soar way above avian flu. It would be unfair to claim director Steven Soderbergh is on studio autopilot but it feels unremarkable in aim and execution, flitting between grim realism, generic thriller and horror show.

Yet hope and redemption are the twin pillars of Hollywood cinema. Apocalyptic scares abound but things finish on a shiny ray of movie optimism. Much like the disease, things starts off with a sense of purpose, but fizzle out to a crawl.

In general, this is a very elliptical film with an awful lot to cram in and tie up before its final act. Ultimately some things work and some don’t. Characters come and go on a merry-go-round of death, but there’s never any time saved for emotional engagement.

There’s palpable terror in the opening scene as Gwyneth Paltrow’s cheating suburban wife appears deathly pale and bleary-eyed. It’s the calculated destruction of a shiny, smooth, movie star face which is meant to provide a shock. Within 10 minutes of screen time, she’s a goner.

Kate Winslet’s plucky scientist, Marion Cotillard’s even pluckier scientist, Matt Damon’s paranoid father and Laurence Fishburne’s kindly bureaucrat fighting the government and the virus all contend for screen time.

Despite being a chiller, it’s not above employing humour. There’s a subtle spoof of Jaws early on when Winslet comes up against local authority figures more interested in Christmas shopping revenue than containing the disease. Elliot Gould also gets a laugh from the assertion that 'blogging isn’t writing, it’s graffiti with punctuation!' And Soderbergh surely had fun peeling Paltrow's scalp forward in a particularly wince-inducing autopsy scene.

Unfortunately, Jude Law’s blogger is a dreadful misstep and the atrocious Aussie accent can take pride of place next to Don Cheadle’s Cockney massacre in Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels.

Contagion is at its best when depicting George A Romero-style social breakdown and mayhem. All that’s missing are the shambling, cannibalistic undead. Little shots, too, of mass graves, dead monkeys in labs and deserted streets are effective, but unlike the rampant disease knocking seven bells out of humankind, this never really catches on.

View 2 comments


3 years ago
do you really think Soderbergh is spoofing Speilberg/ Jaws? I mean, really? Why have to read that into the film? Makes review read like a film student essay.


3 years ago
Winslet's character: "A plastic shark will keep people out of the water, but warnings on cigarette packets won’t stop them smoking." I believe that's a pretty overt Jaws reference, if not exactly a "spoof".
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