‘Contagion’ Review

Director: Steven Soderberg

Starring: A whole bunch of brilliant, talented actors. And Gwyneth Paltrow.

Plot: A mutation of a virus finds itself into the human population. With no vaccinations, antibodies or treatments it spreads quickly leading to a high body count and a global crisis.

Review: If there’s one thing that Soderberg can do it’s put together a good ensemble. Unlike Tarantino, Smith and others, this doesn’t simply involve sending out a mass text message. For the most part these are people who’ve never worked with the director before yet they’re all pitch perfect in casting and performance. What makes it an effective ensemble is that no-one stands out. Everyone has their own part to play with their own narrative arc that becomes a small piece of a larger picture. Matt Damon puts in an understated performance as a grieving husband and father, Laurence Fishburne and the man shouldered with responsibility, Jude Law as the semi-derenged conspiracy blogger, Kate Winslet as the CDC agent in the field, Marion Cotillard in a mostly dialogue free role as a kidnapped doctor – this is one of the great coups in casting.

Some critics have described this sweeping examination of a world in crisis as being ‘clinical’ but this is not the case. Soderberg steers well clear of the melodrama without sacrificing the human element of the story. Although some characters seem at the offset to be carrying the emotional weight, such as Matt Damon, the motivations behind every character are human. Whether it’s protecting their loved ones, being unable to sit back and watch others suffer or just a desperate need to survive Contagion gives the viewer a realistic take of a plausible and terrifying event.

As expected from this director the movie is perfectly shot and paced. It’s not a short movie but it never feels as though it’s dragging. The switching between people and locations gets the focus sharp as the devastation caused by the virus unfold across the planet. The only problem with this technique is that the viewer occasionally feels as though there’s too much happening off screen and you’re sometimes left wondering what other people are up to whilst off-screen. Law’s jerkwad blogger in particular often boasts about his impact on the wider community and it’s never apparent how much is true.

On a personal note, anyone who knows me can attest to my hatred of Gwyneth Paltrow. If she was bad actor I could happily ignore her, but her naive, prattling blog spouting ‘advice for real working mums’ is an insult to everyone who is a parent, works for a living or both. As petty as it is, seeing her as the downfall of society due to her downright nastiness is satisfying.