Contagion is technically quite brilliant. Soderberg’s blueprint is well researched, incredibly detailed and shockingly realistic. What’s more, the all-star cast do not disappoint (Jude Law and his Aussie blogger aside). However the detached view of the virus spread, intentional as it is, leaves the audience with little to grab on to in terms of emotional investment, despite some late attempts at grief, displayed by Beth’s husband (played by Matt Damon). We just don’t care about the characters or what happens to them and the film suffers a clear lack of power as a result.
Indeed, audiences are more likely to be thinking of themselves throughout, leaning away from the person spluttering in the row in front and reaching for the nearest hand soap to prevent them from the threat of this sort of easily-spread pandemic. Soderberg follows the virus chronologically, honing in on coughs and sneezes as well as door knobs and bus handles to give the impression of how the fatal disease takes over - an effective process that has you squirming in your seat - although perhaps not as much as Law’s ridiculous attempt at an Aussie accent.
Posing as a busy-body blogger battling the government to find a cure for the sudden outbreak, Law’s Alan Krumwiede is the centre of a clever plotline running parallel to the main focus of Contagion. But instead of us seriously considering the prospect of something as sensitive as this outbreak going viral in an online capacity, we’re left sniggering at the caricature who gets about as much respect from the film’s own characters: ‘Blogging is just graffiti with punctuation,’ Krumwiede is told.
For the most part, various character plots are handled well. There’s a lot to cram in and Soderberg’s Hollywood cast share a decent amount of screen time (poor Gwynnie aside). A storyline revolving around scientist Dr Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard) however, picks up near the beginning and is dropped before it gains enough momentum for viewers to even wonder where the thread was even going. There’s some great emotional potential in this sub-plot too but, frustratingly, this gets sidelined and is only hinted at again as the film draws to a close.
Incredibly controlled and shockingly real, Contagion instantly gets under your skin before tailing off in a stream of dull, scientific babble. With (mostly) solid performances and a polished, sterile finish Contagion does its job but lacks the punch and thrill that it deserves. Immediately alarming but completely forgettable in the long term.