By John Delia
Slick, compelling, and gripping, Contagion uses the fright brought on by past outbreaks of deadly virus attacks around the world to punch home a ‘what if’ plot that succeeds in scaring the pants off accepting moviegoers. The recognizable actors save the plot from being hard to follow as it jumps from country to country in this thriller that ‘could actually happen’.
Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns home from a trip with flu-like symptoms only to die a short time later after being rushed to a local hospital. The doctors are puzzled as to the cause, her husband Thomas (Matt Damon) distraught that they could do nothing for her. On the other side of the world and in other US states the airborne and contact virus is spreading. Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) has a blog on the web that exposes government cover-ups, and his millions of followers are starting to get scared that the virus will be devastating, causing panic in the streets.
Trying to control and find a cure for the fast-moving disease, Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) has immersed mind and body in finding how the virus got started and where it’s spreading. Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), head of the US health division, has been pushing hard on his scientists to get a vaccine to stop the epidemic. When all their work starts to break down due to affects of the killer germ, the pressure cooker starts to blow. Will Mears, Cheever and their scientists succeed, or will a cure even be too late?
I enjoy the way director Steven Soderbergh moves the story along at a fast clip much like the spreading of his virus. Moving in and out of different countries where he starts stories connected to the outbreak, he adds the devastation that has been set upon the people along with it. His most compelling story surrounds the Emhoffs who we get close to and more involved with due to the erosion of this modern-day American family unit.
His makeup and effects are very realistic and what I would envision an infected person would look like. Soderbergh brings the virus up close, shows the damaging effects, and makes it very convincingly scary.
His actors do a terrific job in their roles, especially Winslet, whose character has to take the lead on getting close to the illness while fending it off her own body. Her scenes show the tragic effects that someone would have if they contracted the virus. You can feel her determination on getting to the root cause while sacrificing herself to save the world.
Contagion is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. The film has a documentary style which doesn’t really lend itself to blow-away images. But the detail certainly gives you the sense of reality in what you’re watching. The colors and texture eventually create some rather chilling atmosphere as we get a sense of the depleted world. Black levels are only average here. Again, it’s the natural style that fits the film’s intentions.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is mostly here to serve the dialog. There are a few useful moments that help one to enter into this hectic but rather bleak world. I’d say the audio presentation is best when it works at minimalism. It’s often what is not there that creates effective atmosphere.
The Reality Of Contagion: (11:29) Cast and crew provide background info and then join real scientists to talk about potential real-life scenarios.
The Contagion Detectives: (4:57) This feature focuses on the consultants and the film’s attempt at accuracy when they portray these scientists.
Contagion does have a few drawbacks that keep it from being an exceptional movie. Other movies of this ilk including Outbreak, 28 Days Later/26 Weeks Later, Quarantine, The Happening, The Andromeda Strain, and Contagion 2001 to name a few have been released. And, even though this Contagion had me on the edge of my seat at times, it came up with a resolve all too quickly for my liking.