Contagion - Online Review

'a disaster movie, turned down to minus-one, rather than up to eleven'

At risk of turning everyone off immediately by referencing the most over-used phrase in media studies courses the world over, the mise-en-scène of the opening of Contagion is expert and fascinating. Gwyneth Paltrow coughs. That's your first sign. In a film called Contagion, where you are slowly condition to fear the cough, it's important. She's on the phone, in a place recognisably 'foreign' to her, her wedding ring is prominent and the male voice on the other end of the line uses the word 'secure'. Extra-marital interactions, travel, illness. Problems are coming.

Overseen by Steven Soderbergh, shot in his usual attractive pallor, the real star of Contagion appears at first to be Scott Burns' crackling script, loaded with pay-off lines and easily boiled-down communiques on the extent and nature of the outbreak. Ian Sussman's (Elliott Gould) pronouncement that 'blogging is not writing. It's just graffiti with punctuation', is a better put down than many journalists have managed in the last ten years. Cheever's (Laurence Fishburne) assertion that 'someone doesn't have to weaponize the bird flu. The birds are doing that', is Line of the Year, 2011.

Actually though, again, much of the expertise here rests with Soderbergh. Look at every actor's line delivery. No-one shouts, a few of them don't even get above a whisper. This is a disaster movie, turned down to minus-one, rather than up to eleven. Soderbergh has produced something of such subtle brilliance, he doesn't need extrovert performances to amplify the tension, the emotion or the action. The delivery here, by everyone, is no accident. It's great directing at work.

Towards the end, Soderbergh does get lost. In what is, for the most part, a densely packed ensemble, with no real focal point, he gets dragged, with good reason, towards Fishburne's Cheevers. There are hints here that a film focusing just on him may have boiled all of the issues down into a microcosm, but the rest of the film doesn't take that route and when the director allows himself to pursue it the tone shift is jarring, where previously the film had been slyly fluid.

Jude Law's Alan Krumwiede has also been the subject of much debate, possibly rightly so. He feels less like a blogger, more like a cult leader, perhaps a deliberate choice by Soderbergh and Burns, or an overestimation of the rank of bloggers in today's society.

Those aside, this is Steven Soderbergh bringing his style to a film which is, more or less, a Roland Emmerich apocalypse drama, which is as refreshing in practice as that idea sounds in theory.




Contagion was showing on Sky Anytime+ and Sky Go.

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