Let me get something essential out of the way: if you are going to see this film expecting a dramatic remake of Outbreak, a movie with the same moody bleakness as Children of Men, or in fact anything resembling a post-apocalyptic disaster movie, then you may be slightly disappointed. Contagion is filmed like a documentary, has the pace of a documentary, and if it wasn’t for the unmistakable (if somewhat heavyset) faces of Matt Damon and Laurence Fishburne, one would believe it belonged on terrestrial television in two parts. Of course I am referring to ‘possible reality documentaries’, the type that are used for climate change predictions, possible terrorist attacks or other attempts at planting paranoid thoughts into the viewers’ minds.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays a possible first victim of a new disease as she returns from a trip to the far east. She of course dies, and Matt Damon plays the immune but distraught husband who also loses his stepson in the process. The film then plays out the spread of the disease running alongside humanity’s attempt to find the anti-virus, reduce social contact and control the panic that is bound to ensue. Saying any more would necessitate a spoiler alert as that is pretty much all there is to the movie. I say this because as a movie it somewhat fails. There are no sob-fest hand-holding stares in to the faces of death. There are no dramatic tears in the arm of a contagion suit. In fact, the one opportunity to drum up excitement in the race for a cure is slightly limp and emotionless. In a word, as a movie, it’s flat.
As a documentary however, it is thought-provoking, alarming and actually relatively informative. There was more than one instance of turning heads and raised eyebrows in the cinema. It just depends on what you, as a viewer, want from a movie. This may go some way to explain the general ambivalence from audiences everywhere in reaction to Steve Soderbergh’s film.
With this in mind, I don’t really know whether to recommend this film or not. I think I would just for the intriguing, contemporary media clash between Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law, who plays a crooked toothed scare-mongerer offering an alternative, conspiracy-fuelled ‘truth’ for the masses. Apart from that, expect science and statistics with intermittent moments of drama.
Contagion (2011), directed by Steven Soderbergh, is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, certificate 12A.