Movie Review – Contagion (2011)

Contagion, 2011.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lawrence Fishburne, Jude Law and Marion Cotillard.


A thriller about a deadly global virus and how the medical world, media and real citizens react and cope with the outbreak.

Soderbergh is a wonderfully eclectic director and this frighteningly realistic impression of a virus that starts to savage the population of the world is eerily real but far too clinical. The film drops the audience into Day 2 of the outbreak and alongside Centre for Disease and Control and World Health Organisation officers (along with some civilians experiencing the chaos) as they investigate the origin of the outbreak and formulate a plan to save as much of the population as possible.

I saw this film twice and I think it’s important to say that I reacted differently on both occasions. The first time I saw it I was impressed with the stellar cast of internationally acclaimed actors, the divergent perspectives, and Soderbergh’s gritty directorial style applied to the scope of a worldwide virus. On the other hand, the second time I watched it, I found that I was exceptionally critical of the second act/middle of the film.

Contagion opens strongly as the outbreak begins and the international community is reacting to it. The performances of Winslet, Fishburne and especially Damon that open the film are stunningly authentic (and just in case you didn’t already think it – Matt Damon demonstrates once again that he’s an absolutely phenomenal performer). There are great insightful perspectives into the WHO & CDC that give a realistic impression of their public and private reactions to the crisis. The film charts the days of the outbreak chronologically from Day 2 and the thrill of being helpless to this exceptionally contagious virus makes for compelling viewing.

The middle section of the film jumps from about the 30th day of the crisis until the 130th day. That middle section where the deaths would have rapidly increased, panic would have been prevalent, fighting would have occurred in the streets, and where (one would assume) the world essentially grinds to a halt in the face of the contagion weren’t shown in the film.

That second act’s potential dramatic impact, seeing the great acting pedigree on show in the height of the crisis, could have made this film one of the best films of the year. However, once we’ve been transported to the 130th day ***spoilers*** the government authorities are well on their way to discovering a potential cure. It’s almost as if there is a vastly longer cut of the film that shows everything that we want to see but the distributors of the film asked for a markedly shorter theatrical cut (this could be totally wrong but that’s how it felt watching it a second time).

You’re wondering is it worth seeing? Absolutely. I enjoyed it and I’ve spoken to a bunch of people that have enjoyed it. I think that it had the potential to be great but was O.K. because the middle section of the film didn’t utilise the talent that had been assembled to make you care about their individual plights.

Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the