Directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns, Contagion is the story of a world threatened by a mysterious virus as panic ensues while doctors try to find the cure. The film is a harrowing thriller with multiple storylines as doctors race to create a cure while ordinary people are panicking as a blogger tries to create chaos through allegations of corruption. Starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, Sanaa Lathan, Elliot Gould, and Kate Winslet. Contagion is a chilling yet hypnotic thriller from Steven Soderbergh.
Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns to Minneapolis feeling ill from a business trip at Hong Kong. Suddenly feeling ill and having a seizure, her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) takes her to the hospital where something bad happens as she and her son (Griffin Kane) are hit with a deadly virus. While Mitch is revealed to be immune with his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron) arriving, more news about the disease that Beth received has reached the CDC in Atlanta. CDC head Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) asks his colleague in Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to investigate what happened in Minneapolis as news about mysterious deaths in Asia and Europe have emerged. Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) is asked by the World Health Organization in Switzerland to investigate what happens as she goes to Hong Kong for answers.
Back in Atlanta, Dr. Cheever and Dr. Ally Hextal (Jennifer Ehle) try to figure out what does the disease do as Hextal goes to Dr. Ian Sussman (Elliott Gould) for some help. Yet, Dr. Sussman is dealing with the presence of a blogger named Alan Krumweide (Jude Law) who is demanding some answers while believing that there is something going on. When Rear Admiral Lyle Haggerty (Bryan Cranston) asks Cheever to not expose anything more, Hextal reluctantly asks Sussman to stop with his research only for him to find a breakthrough. Realizing that the virus is more complicated and a vaccine would take a lot of time, panic is starting to ensue. Dr. Mears meanwhile, continues to investigate as things start to go wrong while telling Mitch and Jory to stay home thinking that the disease could be much worse.
In Hong Kong, Dr. Orantes makes some discoveries about how Beth contracted the disease as she wants to report it to her superiors only for her associate Sun Feng (Chin Han) to stop her because his village is in trouble and he wants to help them. During a TV interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Cheever tries to maintain calm only to go head-to-head with Krumweide who accuses Cheever of trying to prolong the vaccine for profit. With the world in chaos and the race to create a vaccine becoming more intense, panic spreads worldwide as millions of people start to die from this mysterious disease.
What happens when a world is thrown into chaos by an epidemic where doctors try to figure out what happened and how this disease is spread while trying to create a cure at the same time? Meanwhile, there’s ordinary people in a state of panic as they couldn’t touch each other in the risk of infection while the media tries to uncover all that is happening with a rogue blogger trying to maintain that there’s a conspiracy going on. This is what director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns create in this film where it’s about a world in panic through a strange epidemic where lives are at risks and a cure is unavailable for the time being though this rogue blogger claim that there is a cure and the government is preventing it for profit.
Burns’ multi-layered script is definitely filled with intrigue and character study as there’s a lot of stories that revolves around in this film that is all about panic. There’s the story of a man who lost his family through disease as he tries to protect his teenage daughter while a doctor from the CDC tries to help only to come head-to-head with the disease. There’s also the CDC head who is trying to do what is right as his wife (Sanaa Lathan) is in Chicago while trying to keep the world calm as he has to deal with this crazy, conspiracy-driven blogger. The Alan Krumweide character is a man trying to make it as a blogger while wanting to prove that there is a cure but what he ends up doing is cause trouble and questions about his own motives.
Other narratives such as a French doctor’s trip to Hong Kong to find the source of how the disease spread worldwide and a doctor trying to create a cure add to the sense of chaos that surrounds the film. Yet, many of these characters all go through some kind of personal change or have personal motivations to do what they do. Mitch Emhoff just wants to protect his daughter while Dr. Cheever wants to help all that he can including a janitor (John Hawkes) whom he often confers with every day at work. Burns’ script definitely plays up to the sense of fear and paranoia that surrounds the character as well as the fact that they could all die from something as drastic as this mysterious disease. Despite a few flaws for this multi-based narrative where some stories don‘t get revisited until later in the film, Burns does succeed with creating an exciting and chilling story.
Steven Soderbergh’s direction is definitely intense in terms of what he presents as it starts off calm until a montage of Beth, a Japanese businessman, a Hong Kong waiter (Tien You Chui), and an Ukranian model (Daria Strokous) starts to feel ill and succumb to the disease. The first five-ten minutes indicate that this won’t be a conventional epidemic thriller as Soderbergh chooses to play with the rhythms by maintaining a sense of dread throughout the film. Since the film takes place in various locations such as Hong Kong, Geneva, Tokyo, London, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Atlanta. Soderbergh makes it aware that the epidemic is worldwide with various characters from around the world trying to make sense or investigate what has happened.
Throughout the film, Soderbergh does try to inject some calmer moments to give the audience a break such as the story that includes Mitch and his daughter as her boyfriend (Brian J. O’Donnell) wants to see her. Notably in the third act as the race to find a cure winds down as Soderbergh slowly tries to make things feel normal while the world remains a mess through images of trash lying on the street and empty cities being shown. The presentation of the film where Soderbergh also acts as cinematographer, in his Peter Andrews alias, has him giving the cities different looks to emphasize the state of paranoia in the world. Using some blue though darker looks for the winter scenes and yellow-sepia for some of the scenes inside like the Hong Kong and CDC interior scenes so the locations can have a different look and feel. While the overall presentation is solid despite a few flaws in the story and its multi-layered narrative, Soderbergh does create a compelling yet eerie film about the world of epidemics.
Editor Stephen Mirrone does an excellent job with the film‘s editing by creating wonderful rhythms for some of the film‘s suspenseful moments along with rhythmic cuts and smooth transitions for the audience to be aware of what story they‘re following. Production designer Howard Cummings and set decorator Cindy Carr do some great work with the art direction including the creation of empty stores and messy cities to emphasize the film‘s eerie tone. Costume designer Louise Frogley does some nice work with the costumes with a lot of the people dressing very casual while the protective suits that Dr. Hextal wears looks real to what doctors wear when handling diseases.
Sound editor Larry Blake does a fantastic job with the sound design to capture the chaos of the crowd scenes as well as the voices of reporters heard on TV to maintain the sense of fear that is prevalent in the film. The film’s score by Cliff Martinez is superb for its hypnotic yet throbbing electronic score with elements of somber piano melodies. Martinez’s score plays to the sense of dread that is played out along with the uncertainty as it helps enhance the drama without doing too much.
The casting by Carmen Cuba is brilliant for the large ensemble that is created for this film that includes small appearances from Griffin Kane as Mitch’s young stepson, Brian J. O’Donnell as Jory’s boyfriend, Tien You Chui as an ill-fated Hong Kong waiter, Josie Ho as the waiter’s sister, Daria Strokous as an Ukranian model hit with the disease, Armin Rohde as Dr. Orantes’ superior, Larry Clarke as Dr. Mears’ Minneapolis’ associate, Demerti Martin as Dr. Hexel’s associate, Enrico Colantoni as a CDC official, Monique Gabriela Curnen as a journalist friend of Krumweide, Sanaa Lathan as Dr. Cheever’s wife, Dr. Sanjay Gupta as himself, and John Hawkes as a CDC janitor whom Dr. Cheever confers with.
Other notable small performances include Chin Han as a Hong Kong medical specialist who kidnaps Dr. Orantes for his own personal reasons while Bryan Cranston is very good as Lyle Haggerty, a government official who tries to help smooth things for Dr. Cheever with the press. Elliott Gould is great in a small role as Dr. Sussman who uncovers some data about the virus while Gwyneth Paltrow is pretty good in a small but memorable performance as Beth Emhoff, the woman who contracts the deadly disease early in the film. Jennifer Ehle is superb as Dr. Hexel who tries hard to find a cure while finding out how does the disease work while newcomer Anna Jacoby-Heron is radiant as Mitch’s daughter Jory who tries to deal with her father’s protectiveness and her own isolation. Marion Cotillard is stellar as Dr. Orantes, a WHO doctor who tries to find the source of the disease only to be caught up by someone’s own personal world while Kate Winslet is wonderful as Dr. Mears who tries to deal with everything in Minneapolis as well as its outbreak in the city.
Jude Law is amazing as Alan Krumweide, a blogger who tries to uncover the conspiracy of CDC irregularities for his own gain as Law commands a fierce performance as a man causing trouble. Laurence Fishburne is excellent as Dr. Cheever, a CDC head who tries to calm things down while going through his own personal issues as well as being overwhelmed by the events that is happening. Matt Damon is fantastic as Mitch Emhoff, a man who loses his family while trying to protect his daughter from people with the disease as he tries to deal with everything around him.
Contagion is a haunting yet mesmerizing film from Steven Soderbergh led by a magnificent ensemble cast that includes Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, and Jennifer Ehle. Fans of epidemic thrillers will definitely enjoy the film for its suspense and chaotic tone of the film. For fans of Soderbergh, it’s one of his more accessible but also edgy films where he allows himself to be unconventional but also play with the conventions of a thriller. In the end, Contagion is a masterful yet terrifying film from Steven Soderbergh and company.
Steven Soderbergh Films: sex, lies, & videotape - Kafka - King of the Hill - The Underneath - Gray’s Anatomy - Schizopolis - Out of Sight - The Limey - Erin Brockovich - Traffic - Ocean’s Eleven - Full Frontal - Solaris (2002 film) - Eros-Equilibrium - Ocean’s Twelve - Bubble - The Good German - Ocean’s Thirteen - Che - The Girlfriend Experience - The Informant! - And Everything is Going Fine - Haywire - Magic Mike - Side Effects - Behind the Candelabra
The Auteurs #39: Steven Soderbergh Pt. 1 - Pt. 2
The Auteurs #39: Steven Soderbergh Pt. 1 - Pt. 2
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