Contagion (2011)

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Let me get something essential out of the way. If you are going to watch this film expecting a thriller like Outbreak, a movie with the same moody bleakness as Children of Men, or in fact anything resembling a post-apocalyptic disaster movie, then you may be slightly disappointed. This is filmed like a documentary, has the pace of a documentary, and if it was not for the unmistakable (if somewhat heavyset) faces of Matt Damon and Laurence Fishburne, one would believe it belonged on terrestrial television in two parts. Of course I am referring to ‘possible reality documentaries’, the type that is used for climate change predictions, possible terrorist attacks or other generic fear-mongering.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays a possible first victim of a new disease as she returns from a trip to the Far East. She dies and Matt Damon plays the immune but distraught husband who also loses his stepson in the process. The film then plays out the spread of the disease, which runs alongside humanity’s attempt to find the anti-virus, reduce social contact and control the panic that is bound to ensue. Saying any more would necessitate a spoiler alert as that is pretty much all there is to the movie. I say this because as a film it somewhat fails. There are no hand-holding stares into the face of death. There are no dramatic tears in the arm of a contagion suit. In fact, the one opportunity to drum up excitement in the race for a cure is slightly limp and emotionless. In a word, as a movie, it’s flat.

As a documentary however, it is thought provoking, alarming and actually relatively informative. There was more than one instance in the cinema of turning heads and raised eyebrows. It just depends on what you, as a viewer, want from a movie. This may go some way to explain the general ambivalence from audiences everywhere in reaction to Steve Soderbergh’s film.

With this in mind, I don’t really know whether to recommend this film or not. I think I would just for the intriguing, contemporary media clash between Lawrence Fishburne and Jude Law, playing a crooked-toothed scaremonger offering an alternative, conspiracy fuelled ‘truth’ for the masses. Apart from that expect plenty of science and statistics with intermittent drama.

Shapstik Verdict: A thorough exploration into the global panic that would be caused by a lethal outbreak, which makes it an interesting watch. But it lacks the thrill and depth of a true disaster movie. 6/10


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