Quite a chilling doomsday thriller
Direction: Steven Soderbergh
Actors: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow
It’s the ultimate end-of-days scenario. An American businesswoman (Paltrow) returns home after a trip to Hong Kong. In quick succession, both she and her young son succumb to a mysterious virus.
Next, the highly infectious disease rapidly spreads around the world. Millions drop dead within a few hours of infection. As the global pandemic intensifies, doctors race against time to find the source of the virus and a cure. Everything about this cautionary tale is chosen with care from the international locations to the top-draw cast. Depicting events with an almost documentary-like feel, director Soderbergh (Traffic) effectively conveys the mounting sense of dread along with the attendant collapse of the social order.
On the other hand, the disparate storylines are more than a little contrived. It turns out the first victim’s husband (Damon) possesses some sort of natural immunity. Then again, a representative (Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard) of the World Health Organisation is kidnapped and held for ransom which happens to be a consignment of the potent vaccine.
A sub-plot involving a researcher (old-timer Elliot Gould) on the verge of a breakthrough is given short shrift. Viewers are also unlikely to relate to the overload of scientific jargon. The government’s knee-jerk response to crisis situations and the opportunistic tendencies of pharmaceutical companies are critiqued somewhat heavy-handedly.
The narrative takes a turn for the clichéd as it trundles along to an anti-climactic revelation. To be fair, the film is snazzily photographed by the director himself, albeit under his usual nom de plume of Peter Andrews.
As flustered health officials, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne and Jennifer Ehle portray their parts with the requisite amount of angst and anguish. Jude Law overacts gleefully as the activist blogger who claims to have found a homeopath remedy for the disease.
Although Contagion doesn’t measure up to the high standards set by Steven Soderbergh, it’s certainly a cut or two above the current crop of doomsday fantasies.