Definition of contagion:
a. A contagious disease
b. The transmission of a disease by direct or indirect contact
c. A disease-producing agent (as a virus)
d. A people-centered, realistic movie about all of the above
The fact that Contagion, in part, takes place in Minneapolis doesn’t help in remembering that it’s just a movie about a worldwide disease outbreak, not the actual thing.
I (surprisingly) wasn’t as paranoid about germs after seeing the movie as some audiences I’ve heard about, but the simple series of events Soderbergh chose to lead to the death of millions and millions of people certainly put the effect of a pandemic in perspective.
Contagion starts in with Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Beth, traveling from Hong Kong to Minneapolis and subsequently becoming sick with a deadly virus that quickly infects more and more people. Her husband Mitch, played by Matt Damon, is immune, leaving him to show the human side of what the disease outbreak causes in society while the world around him resorts to violence and stealing. As more people begin to get sick and die across the world, Soderbergh breaks apart the crisis from the standpoint of Homeland Security, the Minnesota Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, as well as the media.The film is shown as a race against time while researchers try to create a vaccine to fight the virus as well as find its source.
For me, a film like this could easily turn into one big scare tactic with over the top results, but Sodebergh effectively kept the topic and his cast on a short leash. Simply, and it’s not a bad thing, what’s scary about Contagion is how believable it is. At no point in the film is there a worldwide war zone, zombies, aliens or some freak accident that caused the virus to spread. There is certainly violence as a result of the disease when people are fighting to survive, but, sadly, in the events that take place it’s all human nature that can’t be controlled.
I’d say all of the acting performances in Contagion are level with each other, but that’s a good thing.
All the characters are fighting for something in their own sector of society and I don’t think the actors were meant to shine over each other, but focus on telling a story as if it were actually happening to them.
Of course I have a bias toward Matt Damon on any day and I think he fit the role of Mitch well. For the most interesting character, I’d pick Jude Law’s blogging journalist who interjects himself into the disease crisis to experience it first hand.
If Contagion fell short anywhere, the plot surrounding Marion Cotillard’s character (a doctor with the World Health Organization) wasn’t tied in to all the other events as much as it should have been. It made sense, but fell away from the story at times, then reappeared.
Overall, Contagion comes off as original in the “disease outbreak” genre and I appreciate that Soderbergh and his cast kept the story, despite its many complicated elements, human.