Contagion is a docudrama of sorts on a global pandemic, that has the same multi-level plots that “Traffic” had. Still, it is an engaging drama played out by a bunch of top stars. When a businesswoman returns from a business trip to Hong Kong with what appears to be a simple case of the flu, her husband figures it’s nothing to be overly concerned about. When she dies unexpectedly, doctors are at a loss to explain what happened. The Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization deploy case workers and scientists to identify the virus and create a vaccination to fight it. Focusing on the great cinematography of Hong Kong, it’s a cut above most Hollywood thrillers.
The film deftly moves around the world showing the victims, scientists and investigators and how the crisis is affecting them. It also shows how quickly society can break down as scene after shocking scene of chaos and devastation are introduced juxtaposed with the number of days since the outbreak of the virus. There is also Jude Law, an international blogger who tries to speculate, broadcasting false news, and Laurence Fishburne, a government officer who is in charge of the American counter-action. Their subtle & poignant acting underscore the dire situations that their characters find themselves in. A wonderful film that also gives a nod to ecological theories behind the formation and spread of deadly viruses.
The film is enthralling, especially in a terrific, fast-cut sequence at the end, Soderbergh shows how the virus might credibly have started. We never get a iconic image of an epidemic in the movie, lots and lots of talk and people doing things but not the feeling of being in a middle of an epidemic. Perhaps it is this mysterious aspect that haunts me the most. But as the film points out, viral outbreaks have occurred all throughout history. This movie was so heavy, was so dramatic that it needed to ease the tension a little. But it didn’t.
There is nothing incredibly exciting, humorous, or fun to watch in these 105 minutes of bleakness. It is a SERIOUS film that challenges you to think about culture in a serious manner. Because all the scenes surrounding these operate at such a high intelligence I would imagine this will turn off the young demographic crowds. I am sure they want explosions and violence and murders, but in reality, this film was written by Scott Z. Burns, who compares the outbreak with those of SARS, H1N1 and the Spanish flu (in 1918 that claimed 50 million lives), to this incident which lends a touch of realism to the proceedings. With Steven Soderbergh at the helm of a plethora of Oscar-winning/nominated talent, how could It possibly go wrong? Contagion is a great caboose at the end of a long line of great summer films.