(15) Running Time: 105 mins
Director: Steve Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z Burns
Cast: Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle
Reviewed by: David Gillespie – HCF Official Artist
If Love Actually was a plethora of mini ‘feel good’ yarns for the couples’ market then Contagion is the ‘feel very bad’ equivalent. From the cough and splutter in the opening credits and as the tense bass heavy soundtrack kicks in, the viewer is plunged into Soderbergh’s terrifying, apocalyptic drama/ thriller. It does not pause for breath and none of the big star cast are immune to an early exit. Surprisingly the first quarter features two oscar winners being bumped off in the most horrendous of deaths.
The story begins with the introduction of Beth Emhoff (Gwenyth Paltrow), an American business woman and working mum, returning from Hong Kong with a stinker of a cold. Her husband, Mitch (an impressive Matt Damon) and young son welcome her back but soon the son is feeling poorly also. In the proceeding 24 hours, Mitch loses both his wife and son to a new and fatal strain of virus. Cases are starting to crop up all over the globe and it appears to be extremely contagious and fast acting .
Dr Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishbourne) and aid, Dr Erin Means (Kate Winslet) of the the US Centre for disease Control begin in the preparation of facilities and supplies for a global epidemic, while Dr Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) fights against the clock to find some form of serum as the casualty list snowballs and society and order rapidly breaks down. Meanwhile, Alan Krumweide (Jude Law), an infuriating blogger and writer exploits the lack of information being fed to the public by scare mongering through the net. Will a cure be found on time and/ or will the virus mutate into something far worse?
Perhaps having lived through Foot and Mouth and Bird Flu scares in the United Kingdom, the uncertaintly, confusion and fear (for your children) in Soderbergh’s new project rammed home even more than your average thriller. By focussing on all angles of an epidemic (i.e those preparing for it, those living through it and those financially benefitting from it etc), this is the most effective and fully rounded film that I have seen of it’s kind. It certainly surpasses 1995 thriller, Outbreak that focussed on one group of individuals dealing with such an event. It is also faster paced than the latter. We jump from one intertwining story to another from all around the globe yet everything seems to knit effectively.
Contagion remains at it’s most powerful when investigating the positive and negative human reactions in such terrible times. One memorable scene has Matt Damon’s character being told by a doctor that his wife has just died and he blankly responds in shock, ‘When can I talk to her then?’. Another moment when Dr Hextall’s sick father begs for her to put her protective clothing back on when treating him is utterly devasting. Ehle is a great actress and I wish I could see her in more films. This heartfelt scene wasthe movie’s magic moment and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one in the theatre with a lump in my throat?
Special mention should also go to Cliff Martinez synth extravaganza of a soundtrack. It beats its way through the project from the opening moments to the chilling but satisfying closing shot. Go treat yourself and maybe a loved one to a thoroughly miserable night at the flicks.