It's a disaster movie – but a methodical, mundane, no-fuss disaster movie: a cataclysm procedural which charts the spread of a global epidemic stage by stage.
And it starts with Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) returning from Hong Kong feeling a bit rundown and bringing a virulent new strain of bird flu into the United States.
I was all pumped up not to like this – as a child just the title sequence of Terry Nation's Survivors was enough to give me nightmares – but any film that casts Paltrow as a delivery system for global catastrophe and casually kills her off after a few minutes is a winner for me.
It is a broad mosaic of small events, very skilfully weaved into a single, if occasionally elliptical, narrative. The film never quite gives you a full picture and never quite takes a stand on who should be trusted. And it is all so grimly plausible.
Most scenes are people talking in rooms. With its electronic score by Cliff Martinez, it is like The Social Network without the self-satisfied 'sharp' dialogue.
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Apart from the Hong Kong sequences, everything is lit in Steven Soderbergh's favourite yellow and blues. It's not surprise everyone is sniffing, the whole film looks like it was shot in a world where nobody can afford central heating.
The film is very good on the touching – lots of shots of hands caressing surfaces, shared surfaces. It all becomes a little inadvertently puritanical, as if with all this wanton touching of stuff we are bringing disease upon ourselves. Also why is Beth revealed to have been unfaithful? It isn't relevant to the story and feels judgmental?
- 1 'Too close to home': Neighbours' shock as body found at Mousehold Heath
- 2 'I'd be utterly lost without it' - Family told to dig up vegetable patch
- 3 Calls for 'white elephant' bus lane to be opened for emergencies
- 4 Hospital confirms two patients have died from Covid
- 5 Cafe in historic park pavilion to reopen after £36,000 renovation
- 6 More than 70 speeding drivers snared in police day of action
- 7 What are the top 10 new shops opening in Norwich?
- 8 Shoe shop founded in 1857 closes down
- 9 Chicken restaurant closes 'due to unforeseen circumstances'
- 10 'Cold and desolate' - Anne Robinson's Countdown jibe at Norfolk
The all-star cast doesn't undercut the realism. Their stardom should give them some kind of protection – not perhaps from dying but certainly from undignified, non-heroic deaths – but the callous abruptness of Paltrow's demise emphasises the danger.
The only distraction is wondering where exactly Jude Law is aiming at with his accent. I think Australia, but could be wrong. Aside from that, he's rather good as a conspiracy blogger whose online readership growth mirrors that of the disease itself.
Contagion is very fine and more entertaining than I expected. But it would still be a perverse choice for a night out.
It made me realise why most disaster movies trade in silly melodramatics rather than cold, hard realism – it's to make them bearable.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow
Length: 105 mins