Contagion explores the outbreak from a number of different perspectives the world over: a grieving father (Matt Damon) whose dead wife is somehow at the the epicenter of this catastrophe, a field agent for the CDC (Kate Winslet), a director at the agency (Laurence Fishburne) who struggles with the uneasy balance between politics, science, and dissemination, the epidemiologists tasked with deciphering this virus and hopefully discovering some sort of vaccine (among them Elliott Gould and Jennifer Ehle), an investigator with the WHO (Marion Cotillard) seeking out the source of the outbreak in the Far East, and a loudmouthed blogger (Jude Law) that skillfully shatters the barriers separating information and what government officials deem necessary to release to the public.
Although Contagion shrugs off most of the overcranked theatrics of a thriller, it certainly maintains that same level of intensity and intrigue. The threat is inescapable. It cannot be seen nor heard. Those who are infected quickly succumb. That can be said for both the virus itself as well as the fear and misinformation it spawns. Contagion is a remarkably fleet-footed film, opening with the outbreak already having begun embedding its claws into a couple different continents. Aided by skillful compositions and editing -- the camera silently lingering just a fraction of a second more than normal -- Contagion ensures that the simple act of someone touching a misplaced cell phone or letting go of a handrail can be astonishingly impactful. The virus spreads at a disturbingly alarming speed, and Contagion has a pace to match. Its 100 minute runtime is leaner than one might expect given the
Though Contagion's daunting scope and brisk pace are among its greatest strengths, the collision of the two leaves some characters feeling underutilized. Cotillard's investigator for the World Health Organization seems largely tacked on, for instance, and the subplot she's eventually saddled with is woefully uninvolving. The arc revolving around Law's blogger is interesting in concept but kind of grating in execution. Some of the other melodrama throughout doesn't ring as true as I'd have preferred. Such concerns are exceedingly minor and do little to diminish my enthusiasm for an otherwise remarkable film. The construction of Contagion is brilliant, attacking the outbreak from such a wide variety of perspectives. Soderbergh strikes a tremendous balance between the cerebral, the technical, the clinical, and the emotional elements of this story. The suspense and tension it draws are wholly earned, veering away from more familiar cinematic crutches. Not nearly enough praise can be lavished upon the talents of this ensemble cast, particularly Jennifer Ehle who I'll confess was previously an unknown quantity to me. Haunting, horrifyingly real, and very Highly Recommended.
Contagion is the first feature film to have been lensed with Red's recently-introduced Epic line of cameras, and it looks terrific. Unlike the Red One which tends to have somewhat flat contrast and a slight tinge of softness, the digital photography here is crisp and bolstered by deep, substantial blacks. The presence of fine detail remains consistently robust throughout as well. Contagion takes a rather stylized approach to its palette. At times it prefers to drain away most every trace of color, and at others, the screen is drenched in one hue or another: the sickly, bile-like tint to the opening sequence, a cold, steely blue, or a sharp gold, for instance. Much like Soderbergh's Traffic, those tints not only evoke a certain tone and atmosphere but also serve as a visual guide to the film's many different backdrops the world over. Contagion boasts a clean, glossy texture, far removed from the grittier and more coarse photography I'd generally expect from a movie like this. Contagion's release on Blu-ray isn't hindered by any excessive filtering or artificial sharpening, and despite its fairly modest bitrate, I was unable to spot any missteps in its AVC encode. I'm really not left with anything to complain about or criticize whatsoever.
Contagion is provided on a single-layer Blu-ray disc and is presented without any matting. The second disc in the set is an anamorphic widescreen DVD.
This is a film with no interest in the usual trappings of a thriller, shrugging off any manic car chases, colossal explosions, or bullets whizzing from one speaker to the next. Instead, Contagion uses its 24-bit,
A lossy stereo surround track has also been included, alongside Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Subtitles are featured in English (SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
An anamorphic widescreen DVD and a code for an UltraViolet digital copy have also been included.
The Final Word
Contagion isn't the more overt thriller that the film's trailer made it out to be, instead drawing much of its power from its disinterest in the conventional. This autopsy of a global pandemic is haunting and unnerving because it feels so real, bolstered further by its surprisingly brisk pace, a terrific ensemble cast, and the masterful visual storytelling of Steven Soderbergh. Highly Recommended.