I picked up Contagion for the princely sum of £1 in Blockbuster. It might just be the bargain of the year for me. Contagion shows us the rapid progress of an airborne virus that kills within just a few days. The film chronicles the spread and reaction to the virus as scientists try to isolate it and create a cure.
I really enjoyed the movie because I’ve always liked these plausible ‘what if‘ type of stories. It’s not an edge of your seat thrill ride of a film, more a slow burn as tension escalates and society begins to break down. Stylistically, the film reminded me of ‘The Andromeda Strain’ in how it strives to depict a true to life scenario with realistic scientific ideas. Indeed, by the end of the movie, I had learnt about the R nought reproductive ratio of viruses and the various methods to reduce the spread of disease.
At one point the character played by Kate Winslet tells us how many times we touch our face (2,000 times per day). It’s an amazing statistic when you think about it and it’s also quite hard to stop doing it – just give it a go for an hour!
Another way in which it’s like a seventies movie is that here we have a disaster movie featuring a large ensemble of well-known stars including Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburn and Gwyneth Paltrow. I found the acting to be top-notch, although Matt Damons everyman character seemed a little cold.
The film’s director uses lingering camera shots of handrails and other objects that the infected have touched. This helps build a sense of tension and unease, it’s an old cinematic trick that John Hughes often used for different effect in his comedies. I also liked how Jude Laws character showed the influence of alternative medicine and the damage that bad science can cause.
If I had to criticise the movie, I’d point out that it lacks emotional heart and it’s a bit sterile. Mind you, I’ll take that over histrionic acting any day. Perhaps the very large cast results in some scenes feeling a little like disconnected vignettes rather than forming a cohesive whole. I think that this is because the film is trying to make a number of intelligent points without being to portentous and long.
Although I’m not a fan of Traffic, Soderberg’s a talented man and this film is one of his better ones.