When trailers for Steven Soderbergh’s newest thriller Contagion began playing in early 2011, promises of a fast-paced, action-packed thriller would leave many disappointed when the movie finally reached the box office. Having watched the first 30 minutes, one would be tempted to categorize Contagion into the class of paranoia-fueled thriller that its previews so thoroughly advertise it to be. In fact, Contagion’s methodical, almost informative tone reveals it as something entirely different, more of a juiced-up documentary than a thriller. It provides a cerebral look into the nature of a pandemic and the ways that society tears apart at the seams in the face of disaster.
The story revolves around a selection of people around the globe dealing with a pandemic that has no known cause or cure, and is getting worse by the day. As the CDC desperately works toward manufacturing a vaccine, these individuals attempt to help others while ensuring their own survival. The bug, a ramped-up version of the bird flu virus with a 30 percent mortality rate, spares no one; Soderbergh makes this clear from the beginning with the death of the head epidemiologist working on the vaccine. Meanwhile, the general public descends into anarchy as the lack of a cure spreads fear and desperation, and turns people to looting and rioting to survive.
One of the most remarkable qualities of this film is its scientific accuracy. When it isn’t dealing with the multi-faceted character exposition, it is meticulously narrating the disease’s outbreak on a microbial level. In fact, if anything is wrong with the movie, it would be that it is almost too scientific, at the price of character development and plot cohesion. Without a clear protagonist or enemy, the film feels scattered, almost as if it was intended to last twice as long as it did (106 min.), but a large portion of the story was cut. Nonetheless, an intriguing set of conflicts and some truly remarkable acting keep it captivating throughout.
Contagion provides an intricate and surprisingly accurate look at the effect that disease has on our society. Although it does suffer from some scripting issues, the stellar cast easily makes up for it. If you watch this movie with an open mind and know what you’re getting into, you won’t be disappointed.
Rating: 4 Stars