Review: Contagion

(M) ***

Director: Steven Soderbergh.

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

IF you're a hypochondriac or paranoid (or both), don't watch this film.

Soderbergh, who's done crime capers, comedies, indie films, sci-fi, drama and just about everything you can think of, tackles the disaster genre with an all-star cast.

But this is far from The Towering Inferno - here the disaster is a deadly disease, which means the drama is spread around the world, and not contained to a burning building.

This is both a positive and negative for the film. There are many strands of story unwinding against the backdrop of a worldwide pandemic bigger than anything ever seen before, but it also means the narrative is spread a little too thin in places.

There's the story of Mitch Emhoff (Damon), who loses family members to the disease - known as MEV-1 - while trying to keep his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron) safe. Elsewhere, Dr Cheever (Fishburne) is directing his staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in finding a cure while containing the plague, the World Health Organisation's Dr Orantes (Cotillard) is searching for the source of the virus, while conspiracy blogger Alan Krumwiede (Law) thinks there is something sinister behind MEV-1.

Soderbergh does a reasonable job of knitting the strands together, much like he did with Traffic. But he also wants to tell his story quickly and realistically, so it's a brisk and superficial telling.

That's not to say Contagion isn't fascinating. Not only does it look at how a disease can spread but also how panic and fear spreads too, and how those can be almost as bad.

It's also terrifying in a clinical way - it feels all too plausible, and Soderbergh's straight-forward and factual approach makes for a chilling experience, even if it does resort to quite a lot of techno-babble in a quest for authenticity.

With such a good cast it's disappointing that many of the characters aren't better developed. Fishburne, Damon, and Winslet fair best, but many of the characters we don't get to know because there is no time, leaving their motivations frustratingly unknown.

Like an injection, Contagion is short, sharp, to the point. In fact, you may feel like you need an inoculation against everything once you've seen it.

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