Contagion—movie review

I can’t call Contagion as a feel-good movie. In fact, you won’t want to be feeling anything—or anyone—after seeing this cautionary tale about the spread of a deadly virus. But you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen.

Contagion was directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns, who collaborated on the underappreciated The Informant! That film was played tongue-in-cheek, while this one couldn’t be more serious. I would describe it as a horror movie—the most potent kind, because it’s so completely credible. Like other films of this kind (Outbreak, 28 Days Later) it takes—

—no stretch of imagination to picture how one or two infected people could spread a lethal strain of virus around the world in a matter of days, if not hours.

Soderbergh treats the material in docudrama style, despite his all-star cast, and to their credit, the high-profile actors pretty much disappear into their roles, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, and Jude Law. Aside from the real-life disaster-movie outline of the story (minus special effects), Burns explores the political dynamics of a plague and the public relations challenge it presents. One of his characters (played by Law) is a blogger who positions himself as a truth-teller, but we also see the story unfold from the point of view of a dedicated doctor (Fishburne) with the Centers for Disease Control.

If you’re looking for some kind of poetry—some exalted dramatic arc that lifts this narrative out of the ordinary—you won’t find it here. Contagion is as straightforward as an episode of CSI, but it’s gripping from start to finish. Now, excuse me while I wipe down my computer keyboard…



  1. MIP Hunt says:

    Wasn’t there a book by Michael Crichton called the “Andromeda Strain” which was about a fast changing virus that killed virtually on contact and became deadlier as time went on? It was made into a melodrama of a movie which was poorly received. The book, on the other hand, was great! Too bad about this movie not taking the lesson from the previous movie or the book Andromeda Strain.

  2. Norm says:

    “Contagion”, don’t catch it…more drudge from hackneyed material. Bleak outlook with Democrats in control. Go figure.

  3. Kathy Brown says:

    I don’t know what all negative comments are..but my friend and I both enjoyed it alot. Very realistic and a little scarey … very close to home…makes you think. Reminds me of the movie “Virus” with Duston Hoffman while back…two thumbs up for me..

  4. aab says:

    Very believable, almost factual, but not a lot of story, it might as well be a documentary! I like the cast, they are all great except Jude Law who didn’t even make the effort of speaking American. If he could not change her accent to portray an American journalist/blogger, he should not have been there. An American actor would have been more fitting and appropriate. Jude Law was a big mistake! Kate Winslet did great! She portrayed her role as an American doctor effortlessly. I also think Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow’s characters should have had more depth since they have the leading roles.

  5. Carl the Critic says: It’s not a horrible movie but it’s boring, the branching structure was a mess, Matt Damon’s performance was pretty poor, Marion Cotillard changed her accent through out the movie, the middle was padded out boring dialogue, there were minor plot holes here and there, editing was weird at some points of the film (Like when Jude Law confronts Laurence Fishburne in a TV interview and the scene cuts back and forth to both sides of his face for no real reason), and it was just all in all boring (for me at least.) I thought Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law pulled off some great performances, and the idea behind this is good and different from most other movies that are playing now, but I was very disappointed with it over all. But at any rate, great review Mr. Maltin

  6. alisa says:

    My husband and I were totally dissappointed in this movie. The trailer and ads look really great! Buttt,,,,, aside from all the really famous actors it lacked any kind of excitement, or any reason to care what happened next. It was pretty predictable and the ending was idiotic. It was definately the longest 2 hours of my life. I almost fell asleep a couple of times. If my husband weren’t there, I would have walked out on this movie. I wanted to love it, but I HATED it!! Save your money!!! This is why we hardly ever GO to a movie and wait for things to come out on dvd or on demand. Very dissappointed.!!

  7. Sandra B Santiesteban says:

    I loved the actors, but the movie was too slow. I went to see it with my 2 sons, my daughter-in-law, and husband, and we all made the same comment-What the H*LL. It was a disappointment, not because of the acting, I love G. Paltrow, and Matt Damon, kate Winslet. Jude Laws role was very annoying. I found the movie lacking in excitement. If there is such a deadly virus people would be running not walking. View at your own risk.

  8. John D. says:

    This is an aggressively stupid movie. It relies on the sad attempt to build suspense using the tired “Day 2”, “Day 3”, etc. cards at the bottom of the screen, and literally by the time it says “Day 121”, you wish you were one of the virus victims. Several people walked out, but I stuck it out to the end. For nothing. When you get to the obvious “Day 1” it’s not worth the hour and 45 minutes it took to get there.
    There is no real story, and a large part of the film is montage sequences, probably used to add some time to what was a gripping two-minute trailer.
    This movie is a great example of the fact that when a famous director puts famous faces in any old piece of crap, distributors and us (myself included) will buy it.
    More’s the pity.

  9. Thor Melsted says:

    Gripping film from start to finish. Some good characters, some annoying, some flawed as people. In other words: extremely realistic.

    I’d be curious to see statistics for the sales of hand sanitizer before and after this film.

    The “message” wasn’t really about the perils of environmental degradation, although there’s a point to be made about destroying habitats of animals we know carry diseases forcing them to relocate without a care for where they go or what they may affect. The scene was simply to show the origin.

    By the way, this fictional virus is based on the very real Nipah virus, which is believed to have spread from bat to pig to human. Although in reality that virus wasn’t anywhere near as vicious as the one in the film.

    The message of the film, if there is one, is that we’re woefully unprepared for an epidemic of the scale of those which have happened before – and that people can do horrible things to one another.

  10. Patricia Parker says:

    The longest 2 1/2 hours of my life, only to learn the “message” of the perils of environmental degradation in a lame 60 second scene. When “Day 134″ appeared at the bottom of the screen, my daughter leaned over to me and whispered, ” I feel as though I’ve been in this theater for 134 days”. Enough said.

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