Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law
When a disease outbreak or epidemic is referenced in relation to cinema, the first thing that’s likely to pop into your head is either an overblown, highly improbable scenario or a zombie. With renowned veteran Steven Soderbergh at the helm, one would expect his go at the premise to rest comfortably among the upper echelon of similar titles, putting to shame the glaringly uninspired imitators that preceded the auteur’s latest effort, Contagion. As to be expected, Soderbergh has produced a bone-chillingly plausible, frequently tense and frightening account of a fictional epidemic that eventually falters under the weight of its own ambition.
Keeping said plausibility eerily, almost uncomfortably intact as a deadly virus realistically harbors paranoia across the globe, we’re gradually introduced to a (very) wide array of characters, most of whom play a vital role in identifying the virus’ source and containing it even though we’re given very little time to establish an emotional connection with them. While the incorporation of all these individuals functions wonderfully as a means of examining who handles what and why during an epidemic of such massive proportions, the constant jumps between character arcs become tiresome as the film enters its less compelling latter half.
Outside of an admittedly stellar opening, Contagion benefits strongly from its above average visual presentation and a pulse-pounding score that compliments both the subject matter and some appropriately frenetic pacing respectively. Such characteristics do manage to contribute heavily to the film’s overall appeal, especially when it begins to drag, yet I can’t help but pick apart how quickly the production falls apart in light of the answers we’re provided with as the film draws to a close. Granted, my qualms with the film aren’t wholly justifiable given the intended focus on the virus’ warpath rather than widespread emotional fallout, but I still wasn’t consistently thrilled with the direction Contagion went in as its latter act drew nearer to a mostly predictable close.
Taking Contagion‘s ability to thoroughly terrify audiences into consideration, its biggest draw is most likely the gargantuan ensemble cast. With dynamite efforts across the board, Contagion once again need not worry about the authenticity of the epidemic our central characters are very much a part of. As for the characters themselves, some of them remain more likable and memorable than others given how agreeably unnecessary their corresponding plot strand ends up being, but worthwhile efforts across the board help the film remain compelling as can be from start to lackluster finish.
As a genuinely terrifying, intelligent and plausible viral outbreak thriller, Contagion hits almost all of the right notes. Putting aside its intended adherence to the devastating effects of the virus itself and the ongoing effort to quell it, some elements feel superfluous by way of unnecessary character arcs and a questionable conclusion that either will or won’t work for viewers. The phenomenal efforts of a very well-rounded cast ensures the proceedings are amply aided by all involved, with the aesthetic qualities of the film further boosting the production above substandard mediocrity.