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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Matt Damon
Gwyneth Paltrow
Marion Cotillard
Kate Winslet
Jude Law
Jennifer Ehle
Elliot Gould
Laurence Fishburne.
Directors
Screenwriters
Running Time
106 minutes

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Contagion
Don't talk to anyone. Don't touch anyone.


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Plot
As an unknown and deadly virus spreads across the world, a man (Damon) struggles to cope with its tragic impact on his family, while the WHO seeks to find its source and the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention fight to contain the epidemic and make a vaccine. Meanwhile, a blogger (Law) claims he knows the true cure…


Review
Contagion
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How many times do you touch your face? It is, we’re guessing, a question you’ve never really considered before. And why should you? You rub your eyes, stroke your chin, massage your temples and, when you think no-one’s looking, pick your nose (we’re not judging). Perfectly normal. Perfectly harmless.

WRONG. What if, as Contagion posits, “somewhere in the world, the wrong pig met up with the wrong bat”? What if Gwyneth Paltrow left a surface-transmitted pig-bat virus teeming invisibly on every — single — thing — she — touched? What if you slapped your hand on one of said things and then, mortally unaware, gave your left eyebrow a nice little scratch. Within 48 hours you could be thrashing around on the floor in agony, foaming at the mouth.

Then, once you’d been opened up, post-mortem, to find out what the hell went wrong, someone would take one look at your germ-napalmed viscera, turn dramatically to their facemask-wearing colleague and gasp something suitably doom-laden like, “Call everyone.”

Contagion is exactly that ‘what if?’ scenario, already wrongly labelled by many as ‘science-fiction’. This isn’t 28 Days Later… or 12 Monkeys. This isn’t even Outbreak; there’s no capuchin to chase, no small town for Donald Sutherland to nuke. Contagion feels more like infamous ’80s nuke drama The Day After, an all-too-convincing reconstruction of a fictional but terrifyingly feasible scenario. The Day After, legend has it, caused Reagan to question his hardline Cold War beliefs. Contagion will cause you to question how many times per day you touch your face.

It’s not science-fiction — but it is the nearest Steven Soderbergh’s yet come to making a horror film. It may well be the scariest of the year, each scene laden with dread as Soderbergh’s camera lingers ominously on a recently clasped door handle, a lift button, or an airport-bar bowl of mixed nuts. Like Final Destination, its killer is unseen, ready to violently strike at any moment. But here Death doesn’t need to be so ludicrously inventive. Why faff around with W. Heath Robinson-style freak accidents when He can just give you flu — and then sit back, watch and grin liplessly as it exponentially spreads?

The sense of foreboding builds horribly as we nip through each location of this globe-rotting film and are given a sense of how many are at deadly risk once the virus goes pandemic. “Kowloon, Hong Kong,” reads the subtitle, “population 2.1 million... San Francisco, population 3.5 million... Tokyo, population 12.9 million… Guandong Province, population 96.1 million.” Jackpot! By Day 12, when so many Americans have been tossed into mass graves that the bodybags have run out, you’ll be telling yourself: it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.

Like any good horror, Contagion lays out an eclectic cast and quickly establishes that nobody is too famous to survive. Laurence Fishburne is the head of the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia: grave, calm, but as flawed and as prone to selfishness as any of us. Kate Winslet is his woman on the frontline, the flush-cheeked troubleshooting doc determined to contain the disease at all costs. Jennifer Ehle is the scientist striving to find a vaccine. Marion Cotillard the WHO epidemiologist despatched to track down its source. Matt Damon the concerned parent caught in the midst of the social fallout. Gwnyeth Paltrow his philandering wife. Jude Law the Frisco-based conspiracy-theorist blogger with an agenda: to push ‘Forsythia’, a herbal ‘remedy’.

Law is the nearest thing the movie has to a villain — something close-to-oversold by a particularly weaselly performance, with dodgy Australian accent and unAmerican bad teeth. But in his character’s campaign to have people reject vaccinations and instead buy his non-conventional treatment, Soderbergh and script-writer Scott Z. Burns introduce echoes of the MMR controversy and imply caution towards modern-day snake-oil salesmen. Conversely, they also ensure that Contagion is a cinematic rarity: a movie that makes science the hero.

This virus isn’t concocted in some laboratory by whitecoats playing God, or some vile corporation looking to weaponise microbes; as Fishburne’s character notes in one scene, “Someone doesn’t have to weaponise bird flu — the birds are doing that.” In other words, nature does a good enough job of killing humans without humans needing to mess with nature. And when nature is wiping humanity out, then we need science — specifically conventional medicine — to save us. So while Law lines his own pockets flogging jumped-up placebos to desperate people, it’s the whitecoats of the CDC working on their (free) vaccination who hold the key to mankind’s survival.

There is another important element to Soderbergh’s nightmare scenario. This is not only a viral contagion, but also the spread of something far more virulent: panic. Scenes of people coughing and stumbling blearily, with stylishly defocused POV shots, are followed by even more troubling depictions of law-and-order breakdowns, with food riots exacerbated by widespread emergency-service absenteeism.

Dodging this broken society’s falling rubble is Matt Damon, back in an everyguy role and impressive as ever, but while his director shoots with documentarian clarity and paces with unrelenting urgency, this wide-reaching story’s briskness denies its various episodes true depth. So beyond a few character moments (largely involving his not unreasonable placement of his teenage daughter under effective house arrest), Damon’s ultimately not given a huge deal to chew on. The same goes for his cast-mates. Winslet plays her role beautifully — a woman who has to tackle horrifying odds and yet maintains grace (albeit it furrowed with worrylines) under intense pressure. Again, though, it feels as though she’s too long off screen and doesn’t have quite enough to do while on it.

Cotillard is the actor most denied breathing space — her story should be one of the most dramatic, but it just pulls her out of most of the film, leaving a slight pay-off. As such, Contagion suffers by comparison with Traffic, another Soderbergh film which dealt with a tough issue via a large ensemble, but which was far more attentive to its participants.

To a large degree this is just the nature of the beast, and irks rather than derails. Contagion is, after all, an event-driven piece, playing out a global crisis on a macro-scale. Like The Day After before it, this could have just been a TV movie, and while one could argue that it would have benefited from being made in the longer form of a mini-series, Soderbergh, to his credit, keeps things immediate and cinematic. And bloody petrifying. Try not to cough in the cinema while watching this — you might just empty the place.


Verdict
A starkly effective ensemble drama which could well do for the sniffles what Jaws did for great whites.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Contagion
Empire Star Rating

One star average for a so called 'quality' movie!

hahahaha....haven't seen it, not gonna see it. The cast sucks balls and the director is an over-rated bore. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BatSpider at 19:35, 25 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Another silly moment

easy but limiting way by which to judge a performance. hat a smarmy way to insult someones judgement. Jude Law's accent was a disaster much like the rest of the movie. Just because Soderbergh states the reasons behind his decision doesn't mean it was right. As far as I saw it was a massive error. His accent, much like Damon's and Fishburne's performances takes you out of the movie and highlights other weaknesses. ... More

Posted by jonjonjerome at 00:24, 25 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Another silly moment

Are you fucking kidding me. Nothing was clear, the acting was wooden and Jennifer Ehle gave one of the worst performances in the movie. ... More

Posted by jonjonjerome at 00:08, 25 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Contagion

L: jmebaby25 L: Herr Schnitzel Soderberg gave a Q&A after the screening I went to and said he wanted Law to be someone who was originally Australian, but who had moved round the world for a long time so his accent had changed. I work with an Irish woman who lived in Canada for fifteen years and her accent is all over the place. When I lived in the US I modified my accent to make myself better understood and I probably sounded odd too. a - brilliant. Reading between the lines... More

Posted by Herr Schnitzel at 23:18, 24 October 2011 | Report This Post


contagion

Let me start by summing up my mood when the credits started to roll at the end of the movie; depressed. This movie never gets going, its stellar line up of actors were completely wasted with this bland, boring, dull and monotonous script. I was still waiting for it to get going as the credits started to roll. If you want my opinion - avoid like the plague!!!!!! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by HERMES_67 at 11:19, 24 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Contagion

L: jmebaby25 L: Herr Schnitzel Soderberg gave a Q&A after the screening I went to and said he wanted Law to be someone who was originally Australian, but who had moved round the world for a long time so his accent had changed. I work with an Irish woman who lived in Canada for fifteen years and her accent is all over the place. When I lived in the US I modified my accent to make myself better understood and I probably sounded odd too. a - brilliant. Reading between the lines... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 09:22, 24 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Contagion

L: Herr Schnitzel Soderberg gave a Q&A after the screening I went to and said he wanted Law to be someone who was originally Australian, but who had moved round the world for a long time so his accent had changed. I work with an Irish woman who lived in Canada for fifteen years and her accent is all over the place. When I lived in the US I modified my accent to make myself better understood and I probably sounded odd too. a - brilliant. Reading between the lines, that means he knew t... More

Posted by jmebaby25 at 09:19, 24 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Contagion

L: jrewing1000 Not my favourite Sodenberg movie, but I did enjoy this. It's a slow paced, intelligent thriller. Good cast. Jude Law was ok, but I think he did well with the limited character that he was given. There were a few really poignant moments, especially in the final act. The film ends on a truly human moment. Quite beautiful really. Worth seeing if you like multi-narrative stories. Just not a big movie, and certainly no 'Outbreak'. nd when I say it was no 'Outbreak... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 00:10, 24 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Contagion

Not my favourite Sodenberg movie, but I did enjoy this. It's a slow paced, intelligent thriller. Good cast. Jude Law was ok, but I think he did well with the limited character that he was given. There were a few really poignant moments, especially in the final act. The film ends on a truly human moment. Quite beautiful really. Worth seeing if you like multi-narrative stories. Just not a big movie, and certainly no 'Outbreak'. ... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 23:41, 23 October 2011 | Report This Post


Forsythia,available at your nearest garden centre now!

You'll just have to trust me on the first line! As for the whole film, plenty of good ideas (such as the indoor 'prom night' with only 2 attendees, food rioting etc.) Yet the whole fim felt poorly executed. For starters, the whole feel felt more akin to a 9pm on Sunday evening Sky 1 TV series that was condensed - badly - into film format. The score was overwrought and amateurish at times, conveying more of a Film 2000 budget horror than a Hollywood blockbuster. The acting and dialogue felt woode... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by filmsunlimited at 15:11, 23 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Contagion

Just came home from seeing it. Loved it. Although, Jude Law - was he meant to be English or Australian. He seemed to have an awful cockney accent early on followed by a sudden switch to Aussie halfway through. Awful. And what was Demetri Martin doing in the film? He was perfectly fine, but he didn't fit in a serious film. I kept fighting the urge to laugh whenever he was on screen. Other than that, I thought it was great. ... More

Posted by jmebaby25 at 23:49, 22 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Loved it

L: Rgirvan44 This was a really cool mood piece. I suspect that they could have made the movie with just music and images.  o true. Fantastic film. I think the hate for this is coming from the same people who expected something different (or not, as it happens) fromrs. ... More

Posted by jcthefirst at 23:48, 22 October 2011 | Report This Post


bit generous

Soderbergh is clearly a decent director, the first hour is decent, tense stuff, aided by a cool soundtrack. But then the inevitable happens and it all goes a bit slow. The horror and the pace relax and unless the film decides to go with an ending out of left-field, then you know how everything is going to play out. There are some good ideas - the cast is impressive, but no one really gets enough to do. In fact, the film could have benefited from being 30 mins longer. Also, the levels of death an... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 20:03, 22 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Loved it

This was a really cool mood piece. I suspect that they could have made the movie with just music and images.  ... More

Posted by Rgirvan44 at 00:55, 22 October 2011 | Report This Post


Loved it

Just got in from seeing Contagion & I loved it! I'm not one of these "filmy" types who analyses every camera angle & knows what a "dolly grip" is/does, but I know when I see a really good movie & this is one of them. Matt Damon is once again effortless as the everyman & was the stand-out performer for me. I agree with the main review about Marion Cotillard & will concede that her story strand was a bit odd & her character didn't really even need to be there, but ove... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by eddieryan at 00:34, 22 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Another silly moment

L: Herr Schnitzel Saw this today and thought it was very good. I don't agree with anything the haters here are saying. I liked how the film largely concentrated on the science and on the work scientists and officials doing to contain this virus, instead of the whole thing descending into melodramatic disaster film cliches. Soderberg did an excellent job in following a large cast of characters while keeping every plot line very clear. The acting was very good, especially by the always e... More

Posted by adambatman82 at 22:52, 21 October 2011 | Report This Post


Another silly moment

I hope youre not one of those reviewers who looks at these reviews and thinks 'rubbish it was a very good movie' as it wasn't One of the worst parts was when the camera followed that female scientist (can't remember her name as she was such a bland character) she was walking or even floating through her lab, then she looked at a cage and did a few other things. The plot and narrative devices were so weak that it took me 5 minutes to think "OH..this must be the part when she discovers th... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jonjonjerome at 15:08, 20 October 2011 | Report This Post


BORING!

This was terrible film. started well enough but then tried to fit too many sub plots in which didn’t really fit together nicely or end in a way you felt satisfied. Likewise with the social commentary which was overloaded throughout it never quite answered its own questions. For once I actually fell asleep in a cinema. Maybe because I was in an Imax in the US with Big comfy chairs - nah probably because it was boring! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Tosh at 16:59, 19 October 2011 | Report This Post


Hmmmm

I saw this a few weeks ago in Canada and it was utterly terrible. Forget the "Soderbergh is trying for a meticulous and impersonal progressing virus movie" it's poorly scripted and weakly acted. Lots of critics have been saying there is no exposition as the movie is showing the virus and not the characters but because of this you can't invest in the movie. Jude Law is ridiculous with his Australian accent and even Matt Damon comes across as a doofus. Try not to cringe when Fish... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jonjonjerome at 05:15, 18 October 2011 | Report This Post


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