All AMC Shows
Movies on AMC
Contagion is a 2011 medical thriller disaster film directed by Steven Soderbergh. The film has an ensemble cast that includes Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Winslet. The film documents the spread of a virus transmitted by fomites, attempts by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the disease, the loss of social order in a pandemic, and finally the introduction of a vaccine to halt its spread. Contagion makes use of a "hyperlink narrative" style popularized in several of Soderbergh's other films to follow several interacting plot lines. The film had a production budget of $60 million, and filming took place in countries around the world. It premiered on September 3, 2011, at the 68th Venice Film Festival and was publicly released to critical acclaim on September 9, 2011, in the United States, Canada, Italy, Hong Kong, and four other territories. Contagion grossed an estimated $135 million worldwide. A number of scientists and science writers have praised the accurate depiction of medical and scientific practices in the film, which received cooperation from the U.S.
Hand sanitizer was feverishly applied and a disinfecting wipe was used to rub down the keyboard in preparation for writing this review. That's the kind of germ-vigilance Steven Soderbergh's Contagion breeds in even the most cynical of viewers. The film sends shocks up the spine -- not just because it's scaring the shit out of you, but because it is pure, incisive, riveting cinema as only Soderbergh can deliver it.
Contagion is the Traffic of outbreak movies. I don't say that because each film features a sprawling cast of A-list actors or even because Soderbergh directed both. At its essence, this film explores and dissects the simple origin and catastrophic spread of a pandemic with the same razor-sharp cynicism and clinical precision with which Traffic explored the war on drugs. And there is still a sneaking humanity at its core that indicates a beating heart beneath the cold exterior. This particular narrative is obviously more wholly fictionalized than the former film, but that doesn't make it any less haunting or revealing about cultural hysteria and the deterioration of the human condition.
We enter the story on "Day 2," with a gaunt and fatigued Gwyneth Paltrow drinking coffee at an airport diner. We can immediately tell she is infected. Soderbergh's camera follows the process of how a germ can spread -- Paltrow coughs and places the coffee cup down, the cashier takes the cup away and immediately begins tapping her fingers against the touch-screen cash register. In a matter of seconds, countless germs have passed from one person to the next, germs that now permanently reside on the screen that will henceforth be touched by several other employees, who will leave the restaurant and go out into the airport and into the world, proliferating their germs into the atmosphere. Taking a moment to think about it makes one marvel that we haven't already been wiped out by some heinous pathogen.
Such is the enormity of the conflict created by Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, in their second collaboration after 2009's The Informant! The virus is spread with just a simple touch, but the ensuing outbreak consumes the globe, spreading across countries and continents, like a plague at best and apocalypse at worst. Soderbergh and Burns chronicle the breakdown of society with a clarity that becomes more frightening as the film progresses, and yet this macro view of global chaos is balanced with a keen focus on individuals who are affected by the crisis in a myriad of varied ways.
Matt Damon plays Paltrow's widowed husband, who discovers he is apparently immune to the disease and spends the film guarding his daughter with an increasing militancy. He, as an outside observer, is our most identifiable conduit into the story. Kate Winslet is the specialist who spearheads the investigation to identify and therefore eradicate the disease, a goal that becomes less realistic by the second. Laurence Fishburne is the CDC official who becomes a national punching bag when a cure is not immediately identified. Jennifer Ehle is the scientist who informs the research for a potential vaccine. And Jude Law is the seedy British blogger anxious to fan the flames of global fear, but who accurately pinpoints the suppression of common people by the bureaucracy of world governments. None of these characters are simple, and all offer a differing viewpoint from a unique perspective that further clarifies the hysteria of a seemingly inscrutable phenomenon.
Compounding the severity of the pandemic is the equally vicious spread of misinformation among people in power, from Fishburne's conflicted and pilloried govenment official to Law's paranoid muckraker. Over time, as storefronts are mobbed, banks are raided, and the structure of society crumbles, it becomes clear that fear and uncertainty are just as malignant as the crisis at the center of that fear and uncertainty.
Soderbergh, probably the director best suited to handle this kind of material, mounts a fascinating portrait of how an outbreak systematically destroys the physical and societal makeup of a world whose structural fabric veils the animalistic tendencies of what most would consider a less evolved species. His gaze seems cold and observational, and yet he is ever-aware of the genre in which he's working, finding the moments of awkward, knowing humor through the chaos, and somehow, by the end, recognizing the humanity that was lost amid the fevered struggle for survival. He is as sharp as ever, and Contagion is a brilliant addition to his oeuvre.