The movie that finally beat The Help, Contagion is the latest from director Steven Soderbergh and it’s easily one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in years and easily one of the best movies of this year.
Contagion follows a number of different plots but they all start when Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a business trip to Hong Kong and dies a few days later from a mysterious illness. Cases start appearing in other cities around the world and soon a full fledged, deadly outbreak is killing millions and the CDC, WHO and other agencies are left scrambling for a cure.
Steven Soderbergh has a knack for gathering tons of star power for his movies and Contagion is no exception with Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Bryan Cranston and Marion Cotillard as the main starring cast. All of them are pretty great, Damon especially is fantastic as the husband of Gwyneth Paltrow who becomes increasingly more and more paranoid about his daughter getting sick and she and him surviving the insanity of what’s left of Milwaukee. Kate Winslet is also fantastic as CDC doctor Erin Mears, who is one of the first responders to Milwaukee. Not quite of the same star power but also fantastic is Jennifer Ehle as another CDC doctor, Ally Hextall, who is in the trenches of the lab trying to find a cure and takes a pretty big gamble to try and get a working cure.
The movie ping pongs around the different plots with some intersecting and some existing separate. Some of them work extremely well, like Matt Damon’s struggle to survive the rioting and devolving of society in Milwaukee and others don’t work quite as well like Marion Cotillard’s investigation in Hong Kong that ultimately gets her kidnapped by her Chinese counterpart, who wants to guarantee his small village receives the vaccine. One subplot that was completely different than what I was expecting was Jude Law’s. From the trailer it seemed like he was going to represent some evil corporation but he’s instead a blogger who is constantly trying to prove his conspiracy theories about how the CDC is corrupt and in league with big pharmaceutical companies. The irony is the he is the one who profits from the epidemic by hyping a supposed cure to his online followers to profit the company who produces it.
Contagion definitely makes you feel like you need to douse yourself in gallons of hand sanitizer after watching it. The effects and rapid spread of the disease are horrifying and Soderbergh does lots of lingering shots on door handles, bus poles, and cups that are the stuff of germaphobes nightmares. The crumble of society isn’t anything that is too original but it’s still extremely scary to think about how quickly people would turn into animals in the face of some horrible crisis. The movie as a whole as a very authentic feel that definitely calls to mind something like Michael Crichton in his prime (yes, Andromeda Strain in particular). Also lending to the intensity of the movie is the absolutely fantastic score that is driving, intense electronic that would probably work as b-sides to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack but definitely keeps the movie moving forward.
Contagion is a thrilling, horrifying movie that will definitely make you take a second look at what you are touching or how many times you touch your face. The acting is universally strong and it moves at a fantastic pace. Some of the many side plots don’t work as well as others but Contagion is definitely one of the best movies of the year, which is kind of weird considering were in the slow months of September/October.
4.5 out 5