Contagion is the closest, I’ve ever seen, to a perfect movie; and I don’t mean it’s close to perfect because I liked it a lot, I mean it in the sense that it is an extremely well put together effort, from any and all points of view.
The plot itself is rather simple and something that has been done before – most notably in Outbreak – an extremely dangerous new virus sprouts up and starts killing people all across the world, the virus mutates at a rapid rate and kills its hosts within days of the first symptoms showing.
I mentioned Outbreak outright because that comparison is inevitable, even if Outbreak deals with just a town and Contagion deals with the entire world, the basic premise is the same. The major difference between the two being that Outbreak is an action movie, exaggerated things happen all the time and that’s how it is meant to entertain. Don’t get me wrong, I like Outbreak, but I like it for being an action movie, something that Contagion isn’t.
Contagion deals with what could actually happen in the case of a global pandemic happening, and it does this in a way that makes it feel very genuine because it makes it clear all throughout the movie that they are dealing with the real world.
Not to say that things don’t happen in Contagion, quite the contrary, but the tempo and the pacing is kept very stable at all times, there are no action beats in this script, it revolves exclusively around the characters that it follows, characters who in turn show us how the pandemic is dealt with from different points of view.
This is where the movie truly benefits from a very star-studded cast, and I’m glad to report that all of them were bringing their A-game.
Matt Damon’s character is an average guy, dealing with the loss of his wife and his step-son to the disease, and finding out that he is immune he does his best to protect his still healthy daughter.
Laurence Fishburne is basically the top-dog at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, he is doing his best with the resources at hand to get a hold of the pandemic and find a cure.
Kate Winslet acts as his field agent, tracking the spread of the disease in the United States looking for its origins and then setting up triage and treatment centres.
Marion Cotillard is a World Health Organization representative researching the possibility that the disease started in China.
That should give you a good idea of how this movie approaches the pandemic, from the global, to the regional and then to the local and personal level, the movie doesn’t show us exclusively what one camp is doing, it shows us as many pieces of the puzzle as it can in order to paint a more complete picture of the catastrophe.
What makes this movie as good as I think it is, and why I said earlier that it is very close to perfection is that its characters never act as you might expect movie characters to act, and that can be a bit jarring to someone who has been watching Hollywood movies for their entire life. Nobody does something stupid to make you scream at the screen, nothing ever happens to make you say “yeah I saw that coming”, no. The characters in this movie realize the situation that they’re in, and they deal with it like normal people would, and that is something extraordinarily refreshing to see in a movie.
At the same time the movie never talks down to its viewers, there are no scenes or characters there just to spill out exposition, it shows you normal people going about their respective jobs and lives, doing their best to find a cure or simply survive.
In a world that has dealt with the partial false alarms of SARS, H5N1 and Swine Flu(H1N1) in the past couple of years, Contagion seems to look extremely realistic, this is what and how you’d expect things to go about if such a case was to truly arise somewhere on the globe, and that combined with the very realistic portrayal of people in that given case makes this such a great movie.
Just a few more notes before I end the review, the soundtrack is supplied by none other than Cliff Martinez, who has also created the soundtracks for movies such as Traffic, Solaris and Drive – I absolutely love the Solaris soundtrack so it stands to reason that I found the Contagion soundtrack very appealing as well.
Also for those who cringe at the thought of a movie which features Gwyneth Paltrow – I know I’m one, rest assured she only has a few scenes in it and dies in the first five minutes, you can still watch the movie in peace.