Director: Steven Soderbergh
Some people – those less charitable than I – have suggested that one of the best things about “Contagion” is watching Gwyneth Paltrow die a painful death. Whilst this is a tad cruel (unless you really hate “Sliding Doors” and/or “Coldplay”) it shows how star-studded the cast the latest film from Steven Soderbergh actually is. With the likes of Jude Law, Matt Damon and Kate Winslet all vying for screen time it seems it’s surprisingly easy to throw Paltrow to the metaphorical wolves.
After returning from a trip to Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff begins suffering from what she thinks is flu. But it soon turns out to be much more serious than that and a deadly infection begins spreading across the world. As scientists try to identify the virus that is killing off so many people – a long and painstaking process – the world starts to break down around them as populations die and social order begins to crumble.
This is a well worn movie subject (hands up who remembers “Outbreak” with Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo, to which “Contagion” bears a superficial resemblance) but there’s no doubt that it’s done well. Soderbergh – who can alternate between making big budget blockbusters such as “Ocean’s 11” and small independent fare such as “The Girlfriend Experience” – clearly has his ‘big budget’ hat on and manages to deliver with style. He creates a tangible sense of panic and dread and the juxtaposition between the physical nature of the diseases and the mental effect that it has upon society is an effective and chilling one. It gives the film some intellectual weight and places it beyond the mindless and pulpy affair it could so easily have become, though it does work as a darkly gripping horror/thriller
The cast act with gravitas but never descend into hysterics and further put the film beyond the reach of brainless entertainment. Clever and scary, Soderbergh shows that disease may start to destroy society, but human nature will finish it off.