Another enjoyable, sleek, highly competent, and controlled film from Soderbergh. [Apparently he is giving up directing to devote himself to painting. There was a trailer for his next movie, a good-looking action thriller with female lead, entitled Haywire, before Contagion.] Contagion examines the progress and response to a global pandemic from the outbreak through about nine months out, by which time a vaccine has been found and the virus is more or less under control. The approach of the film is to follow 5-6 characters, each representing different aspects of the crisis: the CDC response; the family of one of the first victims; one community in Minnesota trying to deal with the widening impact; aÂ sleazyÂ blogger (played very effectively and plausibly by Jude Law). So the film jumps back and forth from one storyline to another.
It is effective because the virus is terrifying while also being invisible and methodical. It doesn’t kill everyone, but it spreads everywhere. And as it does, society just collapses around it. The images of looting and runs on the banks are brief and serve mostly as background noise to the stories of the main characters, but that makes the film all the more powerful because it is never trying to beat you over the head with the pandemic. It has an almost documentary feel at times.
Above all else, you come away reminded of the difference between a really good director and all the crappy ones there are out there. You are terrified without the need for hysteria to be depicted on the screen or an overpowering soundtrack. Central characters die because no one is safe in a pandemic. The film can be sentimental (a teenage girl denied her prom and prevented from touching her boyfriend) without one iota of melodrama. As enjoyable as any film in which an eighth of the world’s population is wiped out can be.