Packed with enough A-list actors for one of his numerical Ocean’s movies, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is at the very least polished and professional moviemaking. Soderbergh has called it a horror movie. In tone, however, it comes across more like an Irwin Allen disaster movie. In fact, Soderbergh has cited the Allen-produced The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno as inspirations, though the Allen-directed The Swarm may be closer than anything else. In essence, what we have here is simply — much like the Irwin Allen pictures — an all-star movie (think Grand Hotel with added plague action) designed to play on pandemic paranoia. And this tale of a seemingly unstoppable new virus is very good at that sort of thing. Actually, the film’s pace, its crowded cast, and its lack of depth are what helps to make it entertaining and exciting without ever becoming as depressing as it easily might have done; after all, we’re dealing here with millions of deaths, which isn’t the sort of thing that’s apt to cheer anyone up. The fact that the film never goes out of its way to create much sympathy for the characters, though some of the actors are innately sympathetic, creates a distancing effect. The whole cast, however, is solid, much like the film itself, which is typically Soderberghian in observing much and commenting on little. While deliberately lacking in the way of a visual style, there’s an inherent detachment to his pictures, something that pays off here. No, this is no deep-dish picture about the human condition — despite its depiction of just how quickly civilization can deteriorate — but it’s an engrossing thriller.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Producer: Jeff Skoll, Michael Polaire, Jonathan King and Ricky Strauss
Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan and Jennifer Ehle