Matt Damon in Contagion (Photo: Warner)
(With director Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion seeing a major spike in streaming and rental views due to the coronavirus crisis, here’s an updated version of the original September 9, 2011, review.)
★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Steven Soderbergh
STARS Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard
An entertaining if occasionally unwieldy cross between a PSA and one of those all-star idiocies from the 1970s — those disaster flicks involving hijacked planes, hurtling meteors or towering infernos — Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion tracks the entire cycle of a disease that begins with one person and ends with the deaths of millions of people worldwide.
Episodic in the extreme, the picture mostly follows the scientists and health officials (among them ones played by Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet and Laurence Fishburne) tasked with finding a cure. Representing Everyman, meanwhile, is Matt Damon, an ordinary guy whose wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the first victim of the disease (that’s no spoiler, as she dies within the film’s first 10 minutes and is sporadically seen in flashback thereafter). And then there’s the online activist (Jude Law) who believes that it’s all some government conspiracy and states that he possesses a tried and true antidote.
While it’s comforting to see all these fine actors gathered in one place (the cast also includes Jennifer Ehle, Elliott Gould and Bryan Cranston), the film simply doesn’t have enough time to properly devote to each of these characters, meaning we often only get broad strokes in their development. Yet the film grabs hold by detailing the oh-so-easy ways that germs — and diseases — can be spread throughout the global population.
Where the film works best is in its condemnation of the almighty power of the Internet and its self-proclaimed prophets, as repped by Law’s opportunistic and misleading blogger. If nothing else, Contagion will at least be remembered for the great line uttered by one of its brainiac characters: “Blogging isn’t writing; it’s graffiti with punctuation!”