Contagion * * *

Genre: Thriller

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Kate Winslet

Running Length: 105 minutes

Synopsis: Contagion follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. As the fast moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.

Review: if not for the multitude of A-list stars that populate this movie, it would be easy to mistake Contagion to be a documentary of a real virus outbreak. The trailer may lead one to believe that this is a melodramatic, high-octane thriller, but the truth is quite far removed from that. This is a controlled, meticulously filmed movie that almost feels like a reality program, and the extent to which it potentially mirrors real life is rather disturbing to say the least.

Soderbergh is one of the most versatile directors of our time, and although the multi-prong structure is something that he had already explored (with great success) in Traffic, the complex narrative in Contagion is still a welcome change from the current norm. The screenplay by Scott Z. Burns runs the gamut, covering personal, familial life to much broader national and global perspectives, and yet manages to marry most of them together pretty well. There are almost no melodramatic moments in Contagion, but the film cuts so close to home that it is more gripping and disconcerting than any action-thriller that I have seen in a long while.       

With the amount of talent on hand, it’s not difficult to find at least a couple of great performances in Contagion. Matt Damon is quietly effective as the grieving husband and overprotective father, and both Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard are highly memorable in the handful of scenes they feature in. The standout, however, is Jennifer Ehle, whose portrayal of the fearless Dr Ally Haskell is one of the most dimensional, and easily becomes one of the emotional centres of the film that many audience members would identify with.

This isn’t a perfect film by any measure – it does begin to lose steam in its final reel, and with the many varied storylines and characters it was only natural that a few of the subplots feel unfinished even when the credits roll. It may probably have been better to have left some parts out – the Jude Law component to me felt particularly superfluous – but as a whole this is a very absorbing movie, and one that will definitely leave you with much food for thought (and reaching for the hand sanitizer).

Rating: *** (out of four stars)

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