{2jtab: Movie Review}

Contagion - Movie Review


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4 stars

Getting sick is never very much fun.  In Steven Soderbergh’s tightly-wound Contagion, getting sick is supremely gross, a wide-spread epidemic, and a matter of life-and-death. You can refer to it as the great equalizer as none are spared. Not even Contagion’s A-list cast members.  When the autopsy of one victim’s body reveals the white phlegmy inner workings of the disease an appropriate “Call everyone,” is the immediate response, yet creating a sense of panic and fear isn’t Soderbergh’s intention.  Forget the panic that almost cartoonishly encapsulated 1995’s Outbreak.  This is a clinically glazed film that pushes its documentary-like pacing over a whopping 136 days and demonstrates just how ineffective we (as in the world) are in handling this dangerous ‘what-if’ situation.

Chilling and highly infectious, Contagion opens on ‘Day Two’ of the epidemic and slowly builds to the final day before revealing what transpired on ‘Day One’ to trigger the horrifying illness.  It’s a bold move, but it’s one that pays off nicely with a cross-contaminating consciousness.  Baffling CDC doctors (Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, and Laurence Fishburne) and taking its victims (the first being Gwyneth Paltrow) and affecting countless others (Matt Damon among them), the strange flu-type bug ravishes the world and the organization of the teams hired to handle such an emergency.  A well-read blogger and freelance journalist (Jude Law) tells the world that they are being lied to and profits off the anxiety and paranoia that spreads quicker than the virus itself.   High-ranking officials make mistakes and others take hostages.  The world is on fire as countless societies react to the ticking of the doomsday clock.  Bryan Cranston, Demetri Martin, John Hawkes, Sanaa Lathan and Elliott Gould co-star in a script penned by The Informant’s Scott Z. Burns.

While filled with more scenes of science, scientific speak and science-type intrigue than wide-spread calamity and full-throttled panic, Soderbergh’s star-studded film is never the distraction it could have been in a less skilled director’s hands.  The many celebrity appearances never unground the film from its fatalistic field of vision.  Yes, the mighty Soderbergh has done it again.  Pass the Kubrick torch his way, please.  The pace is clean, the pulse is panicked but not passionate, and the performances are eerily distant and restrained.  In fact, there are only two moments of real emotion…both coming from Damon’s anguished character.

Its distant approach to what is so incredibly human and pressing (especially in our modern times) is of certain interest.  The argument will be that the film never gets close to its characters; never do we get the chance to feel anything for them.  While it is somewhat true that the film never” warms” up in its handling of characters, I do feel that this was not Soderbergh’s point in developing the film.  The point of interest throughout Contagion is in exploring the “how” and not the “who”.

Never once does Soderbergh slip from this clinical approach to telling such a horrific tale of mass-hysteria.  As the bug spreads, the streets of America get piled with bodies and trash and are mostly abandoned.  Homes and stores are looted and the response is muted.  Panic is never at the forefront of the camera.  Harrowing doomsday scenarios and poorly executed plans are, but – even in mob scenes – the camera never loses control of its surroundings and gives in to what could be seen as the easy approach.

Characters fall victim to the ravages of the bug without fanfare.  Families are crushed and seemingly rebuilt by experience and patience.  Even the use of U2 toward the end of the movie is cut by the revelation of ‘Day One’ and all that follows in the wake of Paltrow’s Scarlet Letter.  Still, the camera never “weeps” for them.  It’s crisply even in tone , well-tempered, and coolly distant in where it won’t take you.  In other words, it keeps its handling of cruelty and characters wisely sanitized.

Contagion is a gripping tale of how such a doomsday scenario is handled by agencies, societies, and families; it isn’t exactly a character-driven tale that channels in on the passion and human loss.  That fact alone will alienate critics and upset folks who want to focus on panic and people.  It’s smarter than Outbreak (which is really the only film you can compare this with) and never leaves its coldly-presented reality.  Not even for a moment of humor.

If anything, the movie will turn you into a bit of a mysophobic.   You’ll feel it rising inside you as the movie progresses.  And should someone cough in the theatre...don't jump and attack them.

Now, quit touching your face and go wash your hands before you kill us all.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Contagion - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing content and some language.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
: Scott Z. Burns
Gwyneth Paltrow; Tien You Chui; Josie Ho; Matt Damon; Laurence Fishburne
: Action | Thriller
Memorable Movie Quote:
"Did she mention seeing anyone that was sick?"
Nothing Spread Like Fear.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date: September 9, 2011
Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available

Plot Synopsis: Contagion follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.

{2jtab: Blu-ray/DVD Details}

Contagion - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

3 stars

Blu-ray Experience
3.5 Stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - January 3, 2011
Screen Formats: 1.85;1
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Mandarin
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; DVD copy; BD-Live
Playback: Region-free

Because the film’s intentions are to depict a strange and sudden widespread sort of plague, there is a harrowing and intensified look to the film.  Stylistically, the blue overcast hues are an intense experience on this crackling 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer courtesy of Warner Bros.  The spots of color – when they are present – are bright and warm and add to the many emotions of the movie.  The black levels are consistently even and add to the overall depth of the shadows.  Without any noticeable traces of artifacting, aliasing, banding, smearing or crush and a brilliantly surreal DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, Warner’s handling of Soderbergh’s film is top-notch.



  • None

Special Features:

Without causing even a blip in theatres, Contagion gets the shaft on special features.  BD-Live Functionality is present, but outside of a featurette which examines the reality of the film and a look at how actual CDC officials and scientists lent the filmmakers a hand, there is simply nothing to the supplemental material.  What is surprising about these features is the fact that Soderbergh is missing.  No interview with him.  No commentary.  No nothing.  Boo.


  • The Reality of Contagion (11 min)
  • The Contagion Detectives (5 min)
  • How a Virus Changes the World (2 min)

{2jtab: Trailer}