Steven Soderbergh enters the blockbuster fray with a killer concept and an embarrassment of A-listers. What went wrong?


2 stars



Contagion - Kate Winslet seeks out the virus


Director: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet


Contagion - Gwyneth Paltrow looking a lot healthier than she's going to.

With both critical plaudits and healthy box-office returns in the bank, Steven Soderbergh's newest movie, Contagion, finds the director crossing the Atlantic with something approaching positive buzz for the first time in nearly a decade.


Ostensibly a global pandemic thriller, Contagion evokes memories of the director's Oscar winner Traffic, in the way it juggles multiple-strands and characters in the service of a high-concept, plot-heavy, issue-based movie.


Beginning with a seemingly random bunch of individuals succumbing to a SARS-type virus in various different international locations, Contagion wastes no time with the set-up and instead pitches us right into the middle of the story.


These early scenes are particularly effective with the quick cutting that Soderbergh utilizes being neatly and evocatively underscored by Cliff Martinez's dark and pulsing electro-soundtrack. Of these early victims, Soderbergh chooses to focus on corporate employee, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), who's returning from a business trip to Hong Kong to her family home in Minneapolis.


Succumbing to her symptoms in front of her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), Beth's body is soon being hacked and sawed in a gruesome - yet oddly amusing autopsy sequence – as the authorities attempt to get to the bottom of the outbreak.


Contagion - Jude Law does some community service by sticking labels over freshly washed cars - you're cruising for a bruising Mr Law!

With Mitch seemingly the focus of the human angle of the story, the attention shifts towards the authorities and their response to the virus.


In the US that response is co-ordinated by Dr Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, while on a more global level we follow Dr Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard) of the World Health Organisation as she investigates the source of the virus in Asia.


However, despite the ambition and attempted scale, Contagion never truly manages to convince or involve. Working from a script that seems to prioritise exposition and scientific fidelity over engaging drama, Soderbergh and writer Scott Z Burns offer us a curiously uninvolving film that promises much, yet ultimately delivers little.


The rather hackneyed attempts at dealing with both globalization and the political implications of the outbreak apart, the biggest fumble the film makes is to waste such a talented cast on such one-dimensional material.


The aforementioned Fishbourne, Damon and Cotillard manage to navigate these shallow waters with the most success, imbuing their thinly drawn characters with at least a modicum of humanity and depth.


Sadly, some of their fellow cast members fare less well.


Kate Winslet, for example, is horribly fussy and overly mannered in her role as a doomed, CDC doctor, while the less said about Jude Law's horrifically OTT Australian blogger the better.


Contagion - Matt Damon talks disease complete with gesticulating hands

Despite its dramatic shortcomings, on a technical level Contagion is an impressive piece of work. Beautifully shot by Soderbergh, handsomely designed by Howard Cummings and effectively edited by Stephen Mirrione, the talent behind the camera is absolutely clear for all to see.


However, for all its technical excellence and noble intentions, Contagion is a deeply flawed and frustrating film that fails to deliver on any level other than the most obvious and superficial.


A major disappointment.


James Peaty



Trailer. Below. See.



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Thomas Jane

The first person to be offered the role of Mad Men's Don Draper was Punisher actor Thomas Jane. The casting directors were told, "Thomas Jane doesn't do television."

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