Chaos descends onto the world when a deadly, and highly contagious, illness descends worldwide, seemingly beginning with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has just returned from a business trip to Hong Kong. The CDC are soon brought in to deal with the situation, but things rapidly spiral out of their control as the illness spreads across the country. We follow the outbreak from the points of view of those desperate to stop it, members of the public affected by the crisis, and the few who see it as an opportunity for personal gain.
It's only fitting that I'm writing this review, about a severely contagious disease, whilst suffering from a cold myself. I feel that had I seen it in the cinema, and I'd spent the duration of the film coughing and soaking up the contents of my nose with a soon-depleted box of tissues, the screening's other viewers would have been slowly inching themselves away from my seat and hurrying out of the room before I'd had a chance to touch the exit door, as if there' on thing this film does effectively it's to show just how easily germs can spread. I'd be very surprised if there wasn't at least a little bit of funding from Purell too, as it's often seen as a saviour to one and all.
Having been directed by Steven Soderbergh, it's no surprise that Contagion has a stellar ensemble cast, featuring the likes of Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne and the ill-fated Gwyneth Paltrow, Even after the headliners though, there's still Elliot Gould, John Hawkes, Jennifer Ehle and Bryan Cranston. It's a shame then that with such an extravagant and eclectic cast, very few are really given their chance to shine, and some become lost in the shuffle. Cotillard and Hawkes are the most unfairly treated in my opinion, with Cotillard's epidemiologist being all but forgotten after she is abandoned in a dire circumstance that could have been played for far more than it was, and Hawkes relegated to a fourth or fifth tier character, present only to show the humanity of a character we are already fully on side with. No-one really gets more time than they deserve (well, maybe Jude Law could have been cut back a little), but the film did feel a little short, so some extra meat could have easily been added to pad out a few of the segments.
I had a couple of major gripes with the film. The first was that it was unexpectedly boring. Whilst I'm sure that the depiction of a deadly outbreak is very realistic and highly believable, it wasn't as entertaining as, say, Outbreak, but then an infected monkey is always going to be more fun than Gwyneth Paltrow. There weren't enough set pieces or memorable scenes, with everything resting on the shoulders of the actors who, though highly skilled and engaging, were not what I was looking for in this film.
My second problem, and this may be a little spoiler-y for some, so if you've not seen it you may want to skip to the next paragraph, is that not enough people actually die. It's made clear early on that regardless of the actor's star power or billing position, everyone here is expendable, but this promise is only payed off once more, and that's still within the first half of the film. With such a large cast I was incredibly disappointed that more famous faces weren't left gasping for breath as their last pressure seconds of life were sapped from them. Mars Attacks is a much better example of how to use an all-star cast, and kill them off liberally and in an entertaining way, although of course that's a far more comedic effort than this.
Praise must be given to most of the cast for doing an excellent job with the limited material available, especially Matt Damon as Beth's apparently immune husband. He does a lot with just himself, whereas Jude Law, as the closest thing the film has to a villain, requires a snaggle tooth and distorted New Zealandy accent to even try to compete.
Choose life 6/10