Contagion (2011) – Film Review

Strikingly similar to current events in the world, ‘Contagion’ explores a scenario in which nearly every country is rapidly infected from a freak virus, eventually leading to a large number of deaths. Utilising some decent performances and unique story structure alongside its effective original score by Cliff Martinez, the film is both very bleak and very realistic through its eerie portrayal of a worldwide pandemic.

After her return home from a business trip to Hong Kong, ‘Beth Emhoff’ dies from what is believed to be flu or some other type of infection, soon leading to an enormous outbreak across the world. For doctors and administrators at the US Centre for Disease Control, several days pass before anyone realises the true extent of this new infection. Leaving most of the world in the midst of a pandemic as the CDC desperately works to find a cure.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Side Effects, Unsane), ‘Contagion’ is truly dripping with the Soderbergh’s usual style as a director, as the film is constantly tense and unnerving throughout its tight runtime, with the film even having an element of uncertainty during many scenes, as any of the various characters we cut between within the story could be infected without even knowing it.

Despite the film jumping from character to character during its story, the all-star cast of Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Gwyneth Paltrow are all great in their portrayals of various characters thrown-into this chaotic event. As our perspective changes throughout the narrative, from the eyes of an average family isolated within their home, through to high-up government officials scrambling to devise a plan. However, due to the film being structured like this, the film also displays plenty of wasted potential, as Bryan Cranston actually appears in the film as ‘RADM Lyle Haggerty’. Who is only given a few short scenes and is hardly utilised within the story, making the brilliant actor feel incredibly wasted. There is also a similar issue with the internet blogger: ‘Alan Krumwiede’ portrayed by Jude Law, as this character actually adds very little to the overall story and barely interacts with any of the other characters, resulting in most of his screen-time feeling like more of a distraction than anything else.

The cinematography within ‘Contagion’ is surprisingly by Steven Soderbergh himself, under the fictional name of: ‘Peter Andrews’, and whilst nothing incredible overall, it is fairly effective throughout the film. Having said that, I couldn’t help but feel whilst watching that the film could’ve made much better use of close-ups during many scenes. As due to the film’s focus on a spreading virus, I really feel these shots would’ve further added to the building of dread and uncomfortable nature of skin contact the film puts an emphasis-on at many points.

Cliff Martinez’s original score does help to add to the drama and tension throughout the film however, as the score usually appears during key moments to add more impact to the film’s montages of footage. This is most effective during a scene set in the early days of the initial outbreak, or when the film finally reveals where the virus originally came from, and although the soundtrack itself may not be incredibly memorable, I do still feel it suits the film’s tone very well. In particular, the film’s opening track: ‘They’re Calling My Flight’, which starts the film off-strong by jumping straight-into the narrative.

My main issues with ‘Contagion’ are mostly related to the film’s structure, as the pacing nearing the ending of the film seems to slow-down drastically in an attempt to wrap-up every aspect of the story, and although I feel cutting between multiple different characters is an interesting way to approach a story like this, I could see it being frustrating for some viewers if one character’s plot is more compelling than another. Yet this is somewhat redeemed by ‘Contagion’s realism. As the film has actually been proven to be very accurate when it comes to its science, even receiving praise from ‘New Scientist’ magazine when the film was initially released in 2011.

Whilst ‘Contagion’ doesn’t break-any-new-ground when it comes to filmmaking, the film is still fairly entertaining and frightening throughout most of its runtime, while it definitely has its weak aspects, I would say ‘Contagion’ is certainly worth a watch, and is most likely a 7/10 overall. However, do bear in mind that I probably wouldn’t recommend this film if you are already in a panicked mindset over current events, as I feel this film could make those who are already concerned panic even further through its mostly realistic execution of a story like this.

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