Sterile. That is the first word that comes to mind when describing Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, which is strange considering the film centers on a killer disease that threatens to finish off all of mankind. Maybe the paradox of a cold and calculated film about a disgusting and deadly disease is intentional. Outbreak it is not.
There is no time to waste. The first victims of the disease are shown traveling as they begin to show signs of not feeling well. Every item touched by one of these characters in these scenes is front and center. In case we weren’t already aware, it doesn’t take much effort to transfer many forms of sickness to one another, Soderbergh hammers home that point.
Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), one of the first victims of the disease, arrives home after a business trip in Hong Kong and dies shortly after her arrival. Things unravel from there with multiple angles of the story examined, much like Soderbergh’s Traffic. There are stories within the larger narrative but none of the stories overtake that narrative. Unlike Traffic, there isn’t a heightened sense of drama or emotion. The reality of the disease spreading, the fight to find the cause and cure, those trying to find the truth behind what is going on is handled in a matter of fact way, not unlike a documentary. The only time there feels like a message is being preached (ala Traffic’s (one cringe worthy) scene between Topher Grace and Michael Douglas) is when Jude Law’s blogger/independent journalist Alan Krumwiede is played for the straight up huckster and tin hat wearing crowd his character is meant to represent. It’s forgivable, if only because Law’s character brings so much energy to the screen.
Never completely satisfying as a drama or thriller, Contagion finds its sweet spot somewhere in between genres. And though it never connects on a deep emotional level, the end result is a well done film that tells a believable story about a scenario none of us wishes to experience.