Until his supposed retirement after Behind the Candelabra, Steven Soderbergh was one of the most prolific film makers in the business. He was cranking out movies at a rate that was hard to keep up with. Even the high profile ones with great reviews, like The Informant and Magic Mike took me a long to time to get around to, because there was just so much Soderbergh out there to see. Then there are the other ones, the ones that didn’t seem to make a big splash, ones like Contagion.
Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) is at an airport, waiting for a flight home to her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon). She’s a bit fluey, and not long after getting home she has a seizure and pops her clogs. Meanwhile, people all over the world start exhibiting similar symptoms and similar clog popping. Doctors played by Kate Winslet and Laurence Fishburne are first responders, trying to figure out what this mystery, killer disease is, while also trying to stop word getting out and panic spreading.
Determined to spread that news and panic is Jude Law as Alan, a blogger with a dodgy accent that I think is supposed to be Australian. At the same time, there are various other organisations all over the world, all working in different ways to either stop the disease, or at least figure out where it came from. The cast is huge, and the story is sprawling, but never in a convoluted or messy way.
In fact, that sprawl works to intensify the paranoia and fear. Seeing this world threatening event from so many perspectives only makes it that much scarier. There’s the clinical approach of the scientists, the military logic of Bryan Cranston’s high ranking officer, there’s the dismay of Matt Damon’s everyman. And even when they’re actively working against each other, often without even knowing it, it’s hard not to see merit and logic in all of their actions.
Contagion might be the scariest movie l’ve ever seen. Soderbergh has always been one of the best directors out there for conveying reality. For every over the top piece of cool like Out of Sight, or the Oceans franchise, he’s made just as many grimey, so real you can smell them movies, like The Limey and Magic Mike. In Contagion, that feeling of reality makes the idea of this disease seem more than just possible, it comes off as pretty much inevitable.
Apart from Law’s dodgy accent, every one really delivers. And despite the huge ensemble, each character gets their own moment or two in the spotlight. With such a big cast of A-listers, I don’t know why Contagion didn’t get more attention when it came out. Before watching it, all I knew was that Soderbrgh had made it. l had no idea about Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, John Hawkes or the half a dozen other people I’m probably forgetting right now. Even with this pretty full on, very dark subject that could be a bit confronting, the cast list seems like more than enough to get people interested.
“Effective” is a word that can sound a bit wanky when talking about a movie. But it just seems really appropriate in regards to Contagion. I’m no germaphobe and sickness isn’t something I ever really worry about. But now, having just finished watching this movie, it seems like something I should worry about more often, if not all the time. I wonder if sales of hand sanitizer went up when this movie first came out?