Friday, November 25, 2011

"Don't talk to anyone. Don't touch anyone."

Film: Contagion
Year: 2011
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes, Bryan Cranston, Elliott Gould, Sanaa Lathan, Anna Jacoby-Heron.
Running time: 106 min.

Contagion is exactly what I like to see as a film. When I go to the cinemas, there's a huge part of me that just wants to be entertained. Because, after all, that's the main purpose of films: to entertain the audience. But one thing that I like more than entertainment in films is to feel like I'm part of an experience. Like the world outside that cinema doesn't matter anymore. I am taken in by this film, drawn into the atmosphere it has created, only to be snapped out of it when the credits start rolling, and even then I take a bit of my experience away from me. Probably the only time that I've felt part of an experience with a 2011 film was when I saw Midnight in Paris. While it was not realistic in anyway, just the nostalgia and enchantment made me happy to be right with Owen Wilson meeting famous people from a bygone era. Even though Midnight in Paris is still my favourite film of the year, Contagion blew that cinematic experience out of the water. With this film, I was instantly drawn into the world of fear, paranoia and total destruction, and felt like I too could be running for my life. Now I'm constantly aware of when my hands are touching my face, or touching anything. I'm literally going to buy a box of hand sanitizer. Film-makers may be throwing lots and lots of money into making their movies into 3D so people can feel part of an 'experience', but that's only an artificial experience. Contagion, however, uses old-fashioned story-telling to show something that is perfectly realistic. And it is a great experience, indeed.

So, the basis of Contagion is that there's an outbreak of a deadly virus which has taken over the world, through people touching other people and people touching infected surfaces. From Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), the first person to contract the virus, the illness spreads like wildfire, causing a global epidemic. Contagion shows how doctors from the CDC try to deal with the outbreak, and how the world tries to deal with it, as the death toll rises rapidly. The film takes on a series of stories to look through while this big disaster is happening. Steven Soderbergh has racked up a great cast, which would leave you under the impression that this is one of those star-studded action blockbusters. But this cast, which includes such stars as Paltrow, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law, brings their A-game to a movie which scores an A for being frighteningly realistic. Also, the movie scores an A for having John Hawkes in it. And Jennifer Ehle's extremely impressive performance as Dr. Ally Hextall.

What I like about this movie is that it immediately gets straight into it. The movie starts with day two, and ends with day one, leaving us to watch this epidemic take over the world without knowing why. A few people had a problem with the beginning being at the end. At first, I found it quite jarring and abrupt, but then I realised that there were few ways to appropriately end this movie without stretching the running time to show everything going back to normal. Sure, I was more worried about everyone surviving and getting the much needed vaccine to fight the virus, so the last thing that was on my mind was how the virus got there. This is why I found the ending quite jarring and abrupt, but other than that I didn't have much of a problem with it. What I did have a problem with, though, was the final act. The first two moved at lightning quick pace, introducing all the characters and all the different situations happening inside this big situation. I found it riveting to watch the virus take over the world at the very beginning, and the panic of the people who didn't know what it was or what it was going to do. But once they started getting it mostly under control with the vaccination, I felt like the movie slowed down dramatically, which was a bit disappointing in comparison to what had happened before. However, this was just a minor quibble with what is otherwise a brilliant movie.

I really liked the way that Steven Soderbergh directed this film. It had an almost Hitchcockian style to it, which just heightened the tension that little bit more. I loved how we had a close up of Beth Emhoff, right in the middle of the screen, looking like absolute crap. I loved how there was also a close up of her lover John Neale, looking exactly the same. And I also loved how the camera showed Dr. Erin Mears (Winslet) running towards him in slow motion, with the camera un-focused, as she runs towards the camera and puts a mask on it. It's just the little things like that that really make a movie special for me. Soderbergh gives the film more intensity with his incredible direction, which only adds to the extremely tight plotting in the screenplay. Of course, with all of those actors, there are quite a few stories to tell. This is good because it never allows the movie to get boring. Well, at least for me, anyway. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns creates something extremely realistic with his plausible storyline, attention to things like human fear and also his modern storytelling - using social networking sites in there to bring the story closer to home. With the different storylines, we zip back and forth which keeps everything interesting, and gets different viewpoints on the epidemic, whether it be from those who have the power or those that don't. All of this is neatly tied up by an amazing score from Cliff Martinez, which is definitely the best I've heard this year (except for maybe Hanna).

Despite it's star power, don't expect this to be your average blockbuster. It's not the kind that has Matt Damon running around shooting and beating the crap out of people. Nor is it the kind where Laurence Fishburne asks you to choose between the red pill or the blue pill and then sends you to some strange computerised world. It's the kind of film that had my eyes glued to the screen, keeping my hands in my lap because I didn't want to touch my face or anything around me, my box of popcorn seated on the ground because I felt a little sick. Contagion is an interesting experience, if you wish to fully invest in it. Like the virus, it eats away at you until you truly start fearing the worst for the world outside of that screen. And then the first thing you do is go and get some hand sanitizer and just hope for the best.

What I got:


  1. I am very pleased you enjoyed this one. It is a very good and scary film. The break down of society was frighteningly real and I can imagine that happening oh so quick

    Great review my friend. Have a good weekend

  2. Ya know, this looked very good to me, but it really doesn't seem like a movie that critics will love. Clearly the cast is fantastic, but I just did not expect it.

    Great review!

  3. Contagion becomes a battle between what it is and what it could have been. It satisfies just enough to warrant its existence while frustrating one with its potential. Nice review.

  4. I can't wait to see this one. Although I have to say that I much prefer Martinez's work in Drive.

  5. I saw and loved this film. It's one of Soderbergh's best easily (probably his best since TRAFFIC).

    I too, was a little disappointed with the third act, but I did like the ending and thought it was a perfect jarring wake-up after a previous thirty minutes or so of "calming down," as the vaccine was introduced.

    I also love how early Kate Winslet was killed off, despite one of the film's top star billings. It reminded me of the whole thing with Janet Leigh in PSYCHO, and how she was murdered early in the film.

  6. If anything, CONTAGION is the film I want to see at the cinemas this month. I can't wait for it.

  7. Scott - I know! I got completely freaked by this movie because I could see it happening :/

    Matt - Critics love it more than others. It's really good.

    Dan - I thought it more than fulfilled it's potential! But that's just me.

    Sati - I still haven't seen Drive :( Just waiting for the DVD release...

    Tyler - I need to see Traffic! I'm quite the fan of Soderbergh at the moment.
    Yes, it was a jarring wake-up call.
    Same with Gwyneth Paltrow. Ah, the beauty of movies.

    Leith - I hope you get to see it!

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