Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow
Plot: A deadly virus that has no vaccine or cure starts killing people across the globe. The pandemic is seen from several angles: a man trying to protect his daughter from the disease, a CDC official and his doctors trying their best to handle the situation, a WHO official being kept captive by a desperate man and his village, and a blogger exploiting the situation and causing extreme panic.
Review: I can only think of two other films that touch on killer diseases, Carriers and Outbreak. The former focuses more on the aftermath of a pandemic, while the latter is an action thriller that pits Dustin Hoffman against his evil military superiors who plan on wiping out an infected town.
Contagion however is different. The multiple angle look is reminiscent of Syriana's take on the global oil industry. Steven Soderbergh presents a very real situation: what happens when a global pandemic starts killing people? What would you do? What would the authorities do? What would it be like when people start getting desperate to save themselves? Doubling as director of photography, Soderbergh effectively shows us the world under severe threat of a virus that multiplies quickly, kills quickly and can't be controlled. He knows when to zoom in on eventual victims as well as pull away to see either empty public places or looting and rioting happening at pharmacies and supermarkets. He also manages to hold the story together despite having many angles to deal with, and by keeping things at a brisk pace, Contagion is never boring at any point.
Having an all star cast certainly helps a lot too. Matt Damon stands out as the guy whose wife, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, suddenly dies and the doctors can't tell him why. It eventually leads to him learning some things he isn't ready to know, and then quickly goes to him attempting to keep his daughter safe from the outbreak. Damon is excellent here, no doubt about it. Laurence Fishburne gets the role of the unsung hero, the head of the CDC trying his best to cope with the problem and backing up his team to find a cure. Fishburne's cool acting style really suits him here and helps his role a lot. Jude Law, usually accustomed to playing the hero, plays against type here as the blogger who is self serving and couldn't care less about the panic that he is causing with the information that he is putting out, and he actually is good in this role.
Marion Cotillard and Kate Winslet don't have a lot to do here unfortunately, but having them onboard certainly doesn't hurt. Cotillard in particular, could have been excluded from the film and the plot would have still worked. Other supporting actors stand out, like Jennifer Ehle as Fishburne's subordinate who works hard to find a vaccine for the disease. Special mention also for John Hawkes, who although only gets a minor role as a janitor at the CDC building, makes a real connection with his scenes with Fishburne. Hawkes always excels in whatever character he becomes, and hopefully he will get an Oscar someday.
Ultimately, Soderbergh's skilled direction is what makes Contagion a riveting watch. By pacing the film well (which includes using day numbers to track time) and covering all aspects to make it as authentic as it can be, he has successfully carved a real fear in his audience. At the end of it, you will realise that this is all very plausible, and you'll think twice the next time you touch someone or something in public.
A great watch, recommended. (4/5)