Updated: Dec 23, 2020
Pixar’s “Onward” is currently the No. 1 movie globally. But the biggest show playing in our psyches is “Corona”. Covid-19 is upon us, infecting, killing, terrorizing people, compelling quarantine and social distancing. Streets are empty. Shows and sporting events have been scrapped. The new James Bond movie has been wishfully rescheduled for healthier climes. The world is standing still.
There may not have been a more relevant time to watch the pandemic thriller.
The similarities to the real pandemic are eerily similar. A bit too similar. From the origin of the virus to its source to the rate of it’s spread, it’s all very familiar. (FBI, if you’re reading this, you want to talk to Soderbergh)
Watching this Warner Bros.’ fact-based movie at a time when our world is truly bracing for the worst and in an age when we’ve seen one far-fetched apocalyptic flick after another, Director Steven Soderbergh’s scientific exploration of nature’s greatest weapon plays to our worst current fears right now with a touch of terrifying realism. I would personally recommend skipping this movie for another lighter title in this stressful time but if curiosity gets the best of you, one simply can't help it.
In September of 2011, when it opened, studded with stars such as Matt Damon, Sanaa Lathan, Gwyneth Paltrow Jude Law, it was an okay hit. 'Contagion' unfolds as an engrossing search for patient zero and an effective vaccine. It doesn't beat around the bush. The very first scene- black screen, and a raspy sick cough does the job. By the time it’s the next frame, you’re already familiar with the theme and you’re thinking “germs”. More grounded in science than suspense, its rhythms evoke the steady beat of the crime procedural as the Centers for Disease Control represented by Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and a terrific Jennifer Ehle and the World Health Organization fronted by Marion Cotillard work to save lives and stem panic. The movie is an explanatory drama.
Soderbergh has shown human life and human actions from a very clinical perspective, and in that sense a movie about the disease, it’s science and bureaucracy, about systems, rather than the people and in that way, it is a perfect fit. There's no arguing with Contagion on its technical grounds. The story it tells is based on sound scientific research (even if some individual plot events are a HUGE drag) and the composition and editing are masterful. Instead of the usual two and a half hours of a Roland Emmerich style disaster flick, this one is an economical 104 minutes, although some of them wasted.
All the big stars in this movie are tragically underutilized. With all the major characters dying within the first 12 minutes, the sole responsibility rests on Matt Damon to be the spine of the movie who gives a rather underwhelming performance. The dialogues are sometimes conversational, mostly explanatory. Then finally comes Kate Winslet who breathes life into the narrative although playing a role that requires most of her dialogues for the sole purpose of information dissemination. Jude Law’s rather ill-defined character, the “social reformist who rebels against the system” tries to add a new tangent which misses the mark.
If you're looking for some kind of poetry, some mysterious dramatic arc that lifts this narrative out of the ordinary storyline, you won't find it here. 'Contagion' is almost as straightforward as a documentary but it's some gripping bits. Now, excuse me while I go wash my hands for the 1000th time :)