We live in a world of constant fear. Of these fears, the most predominant is disease and the fear that one day it will be linked to the eventual zombie apocalypse and be the downfall of society. “Contagion,” directed by Steven Soderbergh, (“The Informant!”) is a thriller about a disease, which is never given a name in the film, that can spread through human touch. Touching a surface that someone sick has previously touched also spreads the disease and kills a huge chunk of the population.
The disease, which is the focal point of the movie, does most of its spreading and mass killing off screen, which is very disappointing. The fear involved with the spread of a contagious virus can only carry weight in the film if it’s actually shown on screen. You’re told how many people die and the progress of the disease, but never shown it, and therefore it doesn’t leave any impact on an audience and viewers are left wondering how deadly the disease is actually supposed to be.
However, the disease isn’t really the big picture. It’s just the set up for a character piece in a “what if” scenario of a wide-scale epidemic. On the bright side, it’s a very well written and believable movie, with some exceptions. It’s separated into several distinct stories. One stars Dr. Ellis Cheever, played by Laurence Fishburne, (“Predators”) and his associates, played by Bryan Cranston, (TV’s “Breaking Bad”), and Jennifer Ehle, (“The Adjustment Bureau”) who are trying to create a vaccine for the virus. Another story involves Dr. Erin Mears, played by Kate Winslet (“Revolutionary Road”), who tries to set up healing stations and attempts to contain the spread of the virus.
There’s also a story with Mitch Emhoff, played by Matt Damon (“The Adjustment Bureau”), who is somehow immune to the virus, and whose wife, Beth Emhoff, played by Gwyneth Paltrow (“Iron Man 2”), was patient zero. Then there’s Alan Krumwiede, play by Jude Law (“Repo Man”), who claims that a drug actually works and the CDC are trying to hide it from the public. Finally, there is a smaller story about Dr. Leonora Orantes, played by Marion Cotillard (“Inception”), who is trying to find the origin of the disease in Hong Kong and ends up getting kidnapped. This storyline gets dropped about halfway through the movie only to be picked up again in the last 20 minutes.
There is simply too much going on in the movie, making it hard to keep track of everything going on. However, the acting is magnificent. Damon and Fishburne really excel as the lead actors in the main subplots. Jude Law makes a morally gray antagonist who you will both like and hate by the end of the film. It also helps that all of the characters and their motivations seem very realistic. It’s very easy to follow the characters’ thoughts and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Another point in the movie’s favor is that it is very well shot and well directed. Every shot is visually stunning and Soderbergh knows how to make the world seem disoriented and unsettling. It seems like the camera itself is feeling the effects of some disease. It makes it feel like the audience is a character in the film, which is something that should be a mainstay in current directing, but isn’t.
Despite the wonderful directing, cinematography and acting, “Contagion” is still bogged down by the lack of an overarching, character-changing narrative and a disease that doesn’t seem as deadly as the characters make it out to be. However, “Contagion,” even with all of its shortcomings, is still a very well put together film and is much better than some movies currently in theaters. It at least deserves a look, but just don’t touch it.