BR: Contagion (2011)

April 2, 2012 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / C


Film: Good/ DVD Transfer: Excellent/ DVD Extras: Good

Label: Warner Home Video / Region: All / Released: January 3, 2012

Genre: Virus / Horror / Thriller

Synopsis: A team of epedimiologists attempt to stop the global spread of a new, lethal virus.

Special Features: 3 Featurettes: “The Reality of Contagion” (11:25) + “The Contagion Detectives” (4:59) + “Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World” (2:01)




Like the post-apocalyptic thriller, the virus thriller is a genre that often fails to deliver the goods in the second act because the set-up and infiltration of malaise is more dramatically successful than the resolution. Put another way: if humanity is teetering on a precipice of unmitigated doom, few screenwriters manage to take all their story strands and characters and converge the lot into a finale that’s rewarding – either as biting, nihilistic drama, or a victory that isn’t reached by terribly melodramatic, clichéd means.

Contagion tends to fall into the noble effort category, where the opening montage – tight, succinct, kinetic, and as glossy as a digital magazine spread – blows through the methods in which disparate characters are infected and spread a deadly contagion.

Director Steven Soderbergh’s decision to focus on the epidemiologists – the bug hunters – presents a different side to a plague’s onslaught, and for a while it works, covering the capture, problem solving, cynical discourse between colleagues, the disease cowboy mentality among the rebel contingent (Elliott Gould), and the first clues in stopping the bug which yield some measure of success and hope.

Soderbergh sticks with an almost docu-drama, clinical tone reminiscent of Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain (1971), casting away any personal storylines unless they involve grief or survivalist situations, as happens when a father (Matt Damon) looks after his daughter after the post-epidemic neighborhood’s been raided by thugs and robbers. He’s also married to America’s patient zero (Gwyneth Paltrow), an exec who travelled to Hong Kong for a development project and transferred the bug to various strangers, including her son.

From the scientific end, there’s a field epidemiologist (Kate Winslet) who becomes infected when the bug goes airborne, and in the film’s most problematic storyline, an epidemiologist in mainline China (Marion Cotillard) is snatched by local villagers and held for ransom in the hopes they can get a batch of drugs to halt the ongoing decimation of their small, insular populace. Cotillard’s character becomes increasingly useless near the end, and her storyline ultimately distracts from the greater drama in which all major American cities have become militarized ghost towns, and citizens are in self-preservation mode.

Jude Law plays a conspiracy blogger who spreads paranoia online and in person, cultivating fear through his own theories of government cover-ups, ineptitude, and the alleged withholding of an affordable holistic medicine he claims is keeping him healthy, while Laurence Fishburne is the head epidemiologist who tries to keep his department calm as his own personal affiliations are affected by an increasing wave of paranoia.

Contagion has several strengths – a great cast, some healthy cynicism, a sleek visual look, and Cliff Martinez’ superb score – but the drama inevitably runs out of steam, until the finale, where Soderbergh’s knack for dynamic editing replays the events that triggered a mass pandemic. The film is ultimately a clinical cautionary tale that updates details of a spread to current standards, namely the ease and immediacy of infection via global travel and simple physical gestures. It’s a major dramatic step up from Wolfgang Petersen’s overblown Outbreak (1995), but the latter has a special trash factor which makes that film, dumbness and all, more pleasurable.

Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray includes a series of making-of featurettes, outlining the film’s integration of scientific fact, research, and the actors’ preparation for their roles, and there’s an amusing retro-ephemeral video designed to edify audiences on How Bugs Spread. Pity there’s no further info from director Soderbergh or screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum), but it’s still a decent package for fans of the killer virus film.

Note: an interview with composer Cliff Martinez is also available.



© 2012 Mark R. Hasan


External References:

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