The discomfort movie of the moment. Contagion (2011) Review

Having been concentrating on comfort movies recently, I took a break to take in what, in the present climate, is almost the diametric opposite of a comfort movie. Steven Soderbergh’s chillingly prescient docudrama “Contagion” covers the terrifying rapidity with which an aggressive and deadly new disease emerges in the far east and spreads to every corner of the globe. While its lethality is, mercifully, exaggerated the film is unnervingly spot-on in terms of its portrayal of how events unfold.

Featuring a star-laden ensemble cast, superficially it feels almost like a throwback to the grand Irwin Allen disaster epics of the seventies but ironically it’s at its weakest when it strays into disaster movie melodrama and tries to inject an artificial sense of narrative to proceedings and at its strongest when it’s a potent blend of documentary and slow-burn medical procedural, gradually but inexorably ratcheting up the tension. There’s enough compelling drama in the forensic medical detective work and unfolding public policy responses to keep the viewer gripped but its when it tries to over embellish the fictional (as opposed to hypothetical) side of things it begins to exhibit its own symptoms of fatigue.

The cast is generally excellent, with Kate Winslet, Matt Damon and Laurence Fishburne particularly impressing. It’s only Jude Law who ends up being an awkward fit, not really through his performance (although the Australian accent is an interesting…choice) but in that his storyline feels a little too sensational to really gel with the tone of the rest of the movie ( a kidnapping plot featuring Marion Cotillard is only marginally better). If anything, his conspiracy theory blogger storyline prevents the movie from providing more insight into the wider public response to the pandemic and the social upheaval which follows. By concentrating on such a fictionalised ‘player’, it robs the movie of the oppressive horror of the everyday impact away from the hallowed halls of Government and the CDC.

It may seem an odd choice for entertainment at a time like this, but it was on TV (where it prompted 130 complaints from, I guess, stupid people) and I’d never seen it so I guess you could legitimately chalk it up to morbid curiosity. Anyway, dear reader, stay safe, stay well and wash those hands!


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