There are no crazy African monkeys or accidentally released vials of some secret government project here. Just good ole fashioned evolution staying one step ahead of the human race. Contagion is a realistic and, probably, terrifyingly accurate recreation of what the citizens and governments of this world would have to go through if something like this would happen; and some scientists say it’s only a matter of time before we do see something like this. The film gets you thinking about what you would do in a situation like this and makes you wonder if you would be one of the unlucky 4% that died and gets buried in a mass grave in some abandoned lot. The film is scary when you get thinking about it and it is told wonderfully and affectively by Soderbergh and his Oscar adorned cast.
The film’s performances help you to feel for the characters we briefly get to know before many are no more, but it’s the film’s structure and assembly that make the film special. Starting with Day 2, we progress day to day at first before we begin to jump a bit deeper and deeper into the timeline. We watch as the virus spreads, following those that began the pandemic and Soderbergh brilliantly assembles the opening scenes of the film. Hovering a bit longer on everything that these carriers touch, we see how easily disease and viruses can spread around the world. We get to see the CDC and World Health Organization try to put together the pieces and the process is just as engaging as watching the world slowly crumble. From basic services stopping, rioting, looting, theft and crime all unfold in realistic and unsettling ways here and Soderbergh and his team make it all feel real. The film never goes over the top and while you might expect a film like this to do so, it is all the better for it. The more grounded the film is the more terror it can create in your mind. The picture doesn’t hold back either, from dead children, peeling back the scalp of an Oscar winner’s head, or recreating the terror that might unfold from a lawless society, the film pulls few punches.
The film’s scope is focused, yet grand, as we travel all around the world to try and discover the origin and affects the virus is having on people. The focus eventually shifts to mostly the proceedings in America, but the film gives you just enough of a taste of what is going on else where for you to imagine the extent to which the world is being affected. A little more insight to the global effects could have been nice, but the film’s so detailed in what it does show I would hate to sacrifice that. The film looks and sounds like wonderful as well with some of the best editing of the year. In fact, a scene surrounding a possible vaccination is one of my favorite moments of the year. Cliff Martinez, who just knocked my socks off with his score for Drive, delivers great work here, and is quickly finding himself in the running for the best composer of the year. Things also end on a near perfect note with us finally getting to glimpse Day One; they nailed it and it is scary how simple things like this can start.
The film’s believability is sealed by the excellent cast. Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Lawrence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, Elliot Gould, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes, and Chin Han round out the fantastic ensemble and they all make the most of their precious screen time. Winslet gets some of the best material to work with and the way the film handles her arc is about as tragic and cold as it can get. Her work in her one scene with Damon is about as good as you can get. Law gets the flashiest part and easily captures the sleazball nature of his character. Ehle gets to shine as well amongst these stars and she goes toe to toe with everyone around her. Damon is everyman mode, which he can nail, and it is nice to see some vulnerability in him as he convincingly reacts to the world around him. The cast as a whole is great, making the world come to life to terrifying effect.
In the end, Contagion is a thrilling and scary look into our world’s vulnerability. The odds of something like this happening to our world are stronger than we would like to think and Soderbergh paints a chilling portrait of what that reality could look like. Contagion only gets better the more you think about it and I can’t wait to dive into it again to catch all the little subtleties of the picture. Contagion is another must see film this September and you should add it to your list of film’s to head out to the theater and see. Just be prepared to not want to touch anything afterwards.
Contagion is an A-