Starry but shallow epidemic disaster movie from Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh revives the all-star disaster movie last seen in the 1970s with Contagion, a sober account of a deadly virus which threatens the world’s population. Nimbly flitting around the globe in the style of the same director’s Traffic, Contagion eschews thrills and last minute escapes in favour of dryly clinical observation of the ethical questions a pandemic might pose.
Playing his strongest suit first, Soderbergh opens on day two of the outbreak, as Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) drops dead after returning from Hong Kong. Her death and the demise of her son shatters husband Mitch (Matt Damon), who becomes fiercely protective of his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron). As Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) searches for the source of the deadly contagion, blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) bickers with government official Dr Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), Dr Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) searches for the source internationally, while Elliot Gould, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) and even Demetri Martin make up the numbers.
Contagion tackles the hot button issue of disaster capitalism, as explored in Naomi Klein’s book and film The Shock Doctrine, raising the post-swine flu issue of how modern government profits from exploiting tragedy. But as the above synopsis suggests, Soderbergh’s film lacks any central heart or focus, instead documenting various lightly drawn character-strands as it focuses on the bigger picture rather than clichéd dramatics.
Nicely shot by Soderbergh himself, and driven by another thumping techno score by Cliff Martinez (Drive), Contagion is passable low-key entertainment, yet the fragmented approach never threatens to rise to an emotionally or intellectually satisfying point. The bodies pile up until there’s no body-bags left, but the low-wattage performances and the underlying hysteria of the film never mesh, leaving an alarmist but shallow interpretation of the disaster film format.
General release from Fri 21 Oct.