On its surface, the 2011 Steven Soderbergh thriller may not be something you’d consider a horror film, but just ask my wife and she’ll tell you it’s the scariest thing she can possibly imagine. The idea of a virus spreading worldwide and killing millions of people is much more scary than Freddy, Jason or any other boogeyman that Hollywood can create. It’s a film based in reality. This is something that can really happen, and that is terrifying.
In typical Soderbergh fashion, the film is a who’s who of legitimate movie stars, both past and present. Matt Damon, Kate Winslett, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, amongst others, are along for the ride this time. While they all give their typical good performances (Jude Law grates on my nerves, but it’s not because he’s a bad actor) another well known actor hijacks the second half of the film and turns in a tremendous performance.
Gwenyth is Matty, Damon’s wife, who is just about to board her connecting flight in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, having just left her lover’s bed during her lay-over. She’s not feeling well, but thinks she just picked up something traveling through Asia. Two days later, she and her son will be dead. They are not the only ones. Breakouts begin in almost every major city across the planet. People look to the CDC in Atlanta for answers, but there are none. Website muckraker Jude Law steps up offering to expose the vast government conspiracy behind the outbreak and the lack of a cure. But his motivations are as questionable as those he’s trying to expose. The CDC manages to isolate the virus, which has mutated, and eventually develop a cure, but by then it’s almost too late.
It’s always a joy to watch a Soderbergh film come together. The story is told in chronological order from day two through the end of the threat, and through the eyes of several main characters. It’s amazing how he can establish and build a character within minutes before moving on and doing the same thing with another person’s story. In a less deft director’s hand, this film could have been a mess. In his, it becomes an expertly crafted thriller.
That’s not to say it’s not without faults. The movie comes out swinging in the first 15 or 20 minutes but then settles into a lull for the next half hour or so. It gets a little lost in medical procedure and jargon. Luckily, a great performance from Lawrence Fishburne rescues what could have turned out to be a yawn-inducing or, worse, confusing third act. Fishburne could have been overwhelmed by the weight of the cast surrounding him, but has the gravitas to elevate those around him. His journey as the CDC doctor in charge of the situation is something that a less skilled actor would not have been able to pull off.
Contagion is a truly frightening film that preys on our everyday fears. Our normal routines can kill us if we are not careful. It’s not straight horror, the dead stay dead. But it will scare the hell out of you. If you weren’t carrying hand sanitizer with you before watching this film, you certainly will after. It’s a Soderbergh film, with a great cast, that for the most part brings its “A” game. If you love film, this is a no-brainer. If you are the type of person who was leery of travel already, you might want to skip this or you may never leave the house again.