Steven Soderbergh delivers an engrossing thriller that makes sure you’ll think twice before touching just about everything.
Imagine you’ve just finished eating dinner at a restaurant and are waiting to pay your bill. The waiter takes your card and proceeds to the back and as he does you notice a man who has just arrived a few tables away. He takes off his coat and doesn’t look all that good. The waiter returns with your card and you sign your name, but as you do you can’t help but hear that same man coughing. Luckily, you notice as you glance up, he was covering his mouth. You smile and thank the waiter, get up and put on your coat just as the man a few tables down blows his nose and coughs once more. He’s definitely not feeling well and you’re thankful you’re leaving and don’t have to risk catching whatever it is he has by sticking around any longer.
But wait, what about the person who was previously sitting in your seat? Sure the man a few tables away covered his mouth when he coughed but he then went on to flip through the menu, use the salt and pepper and touch the doorknob on the way out with that very same hand. Who’s to say the person sitting where you were didn’t do the same thing right before you got there? Or that the pen you used to sign for the bill wasn’t contaminated by someone else who had some sort of illness, whether symptoms were showing or not? The truth is you don’t know, but at the same time you don’t really think about it because if you did you’d likely never leave your house.
Yet getting you to think that way is exactly what makes Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s latest thriller, so effective right from the very start. The film opens up with a black screen, followed by coughing and opens up to Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) sitting in an airport with the words “Day 2″ at the bottom of the screen. She gets a phone call from a man who thanks her for the booty-call they just had and hopes to see her again soon. Cut to various locations around the world, such as Hong Kong and France and we find that a handful of others are showing the exact same symptoms. We also become extremely aware at just how many objects and people they’re coming in contact with during these short scenes.
It’s these moments where Contagion really shines. It’s so easy to become engrossed in the film as it’s just amazing to see how many brief moments of contact we have with things without even really being aware of it. Recent pandemics such as SARS and H1N1 were covered greatly through the news and yet chances are if there weren’t any cases reported in your area you likely didn’t worry about them during your day to day activities. However, to watch firsthand as the interactions of this handful of people start a global outbreak is a really scary thing, and Soderbergh delivers it in such a real, fast-paced way that it becomes incredibly shocking to watch just how quickly these scenarios can spin out of control.
The story, written by Scott Z. Burns (who also penned Soderbergh’s The Informant!), is told through multiple perspectives ranging from Beth’s husband Mitch (Matt Damon), who is immune to the disease, to Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), one of the higher-ups working at the Center for Disease Control. There are also stories involving Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) and an ongoing debate about just how influential social networking truly is involving a man named Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), who is determined to bring the “truth” about the disease and the government’s true intentions to light.
Having this many people and stories involved may sound overwhelming but Burns does a great job of keeping the main idea coherent from start to finish. Soderbergh and editor Stephen Mirrione set a near perfect pace that also helps move things along smoothly and really keeps the narrative of each character fresh in the viewer’s mind throughout. The downside of this is that there’s only so much time for these stories to be told and certain aspects of some feel rushed, while one in particular lacks a true conclusion. It’s unfortunate as Contagion starts off so strong and yet the film does seem to falter when entering the somewhat anti-climactic final act.
While the finale couldn’t stand toe to toe with the incredibly engrossing first two acts, Contagion is still an intense thriller that’s completely satisfying from beginning to end. The acting is strong from all those involved and the direction from Soderbergh once again shows why he’s considered one of the best in the business. One thing is for sure, whether you like the film or not, you’ll never be more conscious about everything that you’re touching than you will be in the first moments after the film has ended.
Director: Steven Soderbergh Notable Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Marion Cotillard Writer(s): Scott Z. Burns
Brendan Campbell was here when Inside Pulse Movies began, and he’ll be here when it finishes - in 2012, when a cataclysmic event wipes out the servers, as well as everyone else on the planet other than John Cusack and those close to him. Brendan’s the #1 supporter of Keanu Reeves, a huge fan of popcorn flicks and a firm believer that sheer entertainment can take a film a long way. He currently resides in Canada, where, for reasons stated above, he’s attempting to get closer to John Cusack.