I can’t call Contagion as a feel-good movie. In fact, you won’t want to be feeling anything—or anyone—after seeing this cautionary tale about the spread of a deadly virus. But you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen.
Contagion was directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns, who collaborated on the underappreciated The Informant! That film was played tongue-in-cheek, while this one couldn’t be more serious. I would describe it as a horror movie—the most potent kind, because it’s so completely credible. Like other films of this kind (Outbreak, 28 Days Later) it takes—
—no stretch of imagination to picture how one or two infected people could spread a lethal strain of virus around the world in a matter of days, if not hours.
Soderbergh treats the material in docudrama style, despite his all-star cast, and to their credit, the high-profile actors pretty much disappear into their roles, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, and Jude Law. Aside from the real-life disaster-movie outline of the story (minus special effects), Burns explores the political dynamics of a plague and the public relations challenge it presents. One of his characters (played by Law) is a blogger who positions himself as a truth-teller, but we also see the story unfold from the point of view of a dedicated doctor (Fishburne) with the Centers for Disease Control.
If you’re looking for some kind of poetry—some exalted dramatic arc that lifts this narrative out of the ordinary—you won’t find it here. Contagion is as straightforward as an episode of CSI, but it’s gripping from start to finish. Now, excuse me while I wipe down my computer keyboard…