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Contagion (2011) Review

Seems quite topical really, doesn’t it? The first film I watch on the beginning of a new mini project while I spend my time in self-isolation, sitting on a throne of toilet paper and surrounded by cans of chilli should be a film that gives me a glimpse of the outside world. The closest I will come to seeing the light of day ever again having sealed the door to my bunker, Contagion looks to demonstrate the effective measures a competent government would put into place when a global pandemic starts bumping off the population at an alarming rate. 

Showcasing exactly what happens when you use products manufactured by the goop company, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) sets off a viral infection that spreads rapidly and kills off many members of the population. Along the way, we bump into a variety of famous faces who are doing relatively mundane tasks, and therein lies the problem. Contagion is an extremely mundane movie, picking apart the process of how the CDC and worldwide governments would deal with a global pandemic, while at the same time cherry-picking some emotional and reality breaking moments for the sake of fluffing up the plot a bit. You can have either reality or fiction, you can’t muddle the two together often, and in this case it really doesn’t work whatsoever.

I watched this with a friend (in isolated rooms on opposite sides of our degrading country) and he pointed out that Contagion would be a lot more interesting if we spent the whole film with Matt Damon’s character. He’s certainly not wrong, and the focus that Contagion would’ve had by dealing with this from the perspective of an immune, day one survivor who also has to deal with the fallout of his wife’s death and also affair would be a marvellous film to pen. Unfortunately, that’s not what we receive here, instead we mull about queues and contaminated areas, every now and then hopping back to see how Damon and his daughter are coping with the disease.

Most of the other cast members are relatively prone to exposing themselves to something far more dangerous than the deadly virus. They come close to dealing with the intoxicating mess of appearing in a Steven Soderbergh movie. Soderbergh’s direction here is one of complete incompetence. His mapping of the story darts between such a large variety of character that we’re left on relatively ambiguous terms with the vast majority of them. Elliot Gould appears in among these large swathes of cast members, yet doesn’t make any further appearances when the going gets tough. Jude Law appears as a bucktooth, flat-cap wearing Australian, two things in that list make him the worst part of the film and I’ll leave it up to you to decide which aspects make him so detestable. Regardless, it’s a bad performance, one that sees him flagellate an entire country with only the power of his voice.

Contagion should be kept in containment, far away from the visible eye. Somewhere dark, underground, contained in a big drum filled with liquid nitrogen. Until every copy of this movie is encased in a big block of dangerously cold chemicals will we ever be safe from the travesties that lie on each and every disc, digital copy and download Contagion shows up on. Completely useless, pandering to the tropes of the genre while at the same time not doing anything to gauge interest or accelerate the plot. A formidably dull viewing experience.

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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