Probably Steven Soderbergh's final film for now as he embarks onto a new artistic career, but as with all things, never say never to a medium he's so masterful in, balancing art and commercial sensibilities in most of his films. It's been a long time since I've seen a bona fide disaster like movie that dealt with a pandemic (although there's a recent Japanese film that didn't make it here), and most virus-like attacks on cinematic Earth coming more from out and out science fiction films.
The last film I remember was Wolfgang Petersen's Outbreak way back in 1995, but that was more action-adventure with its principal cast involved in almost every step of the way from outbreak to containment to cure. Here, Soderbergh orchestrates his ensemble of stars in a very well-oiled fashion, compartmentalizing as would be in real life, each of the characters to their respective areas of responsibility, so that the film felt its scale and magnitude, and hammers home how so well connected we are these days that transmission methods whether airborne or through close proximity, will still spread like wildfire before we know it, geographical boundaries and constraints notwithstanding.
It's a more documentary like approach starting from Day 2 of a fresh outbreak of a disease that we know inflicts death at the extreme and most unfortunate, that gathers momentum with the passing of each day, stressing upon the urgency to identify, classify then nullify the cause and effects. In the last decade we've lived through the SARS period as well as the H1N1 pandemic outbreak, so the issues thet underline the film will not get lost with any modern audience, since the film chronicles in almost similar terms how one would follow a newsreel in getting to know about the disease, the steps taken to combat it from extending distances right dwwn to full quarantines, and especially the fears faced when mortality enters the picture.
From the get go the film promises proceedings to move at a punchy pace, with the opening montage being a very sly approach in highlighting the various ways to transmit any contagious illness, such as the common touchpoints that exist which we take for granted and nary bat an eyelid. This will open one's eyes and serve as a reminder again just how easy it is for anything to be psased on from one body to another. In some ways it's educational, yet chilling when you witness and agree with what's being played out on screen,
Written by Scott Z. Burns, Contagion doesn't mince its messages about social and new media's power and reach when they go up against establishment, especially when establishment here is seen to be slow, bureaucratic even, when it lumbers along trying to combat something small, nimble and generally unknown in the earlier stages. It's also very pointed politically about things like morals and the pharmaceutical companies, and how certain countries utilize different unorthodox techniques to force and outcome, all these while under the same breath demonstrating through the different story arcs the workings of respective CDCs, how health experts go about their job scopes in the WHO, providing a macro as well as a micro look at the issues at hand to save mankind from eradication.
Most will be drawn by the trailer or poster which have boasted an A-list star-studded turnout, with the likes of Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and even cameos by Josei Ho and a supporting role with Ng Chin Han of Singapore who seems to be going places these days in Hollywood, though if one compares his outing here and in The Dark Knight, he may be getting stereotyped with the roles being offered. But we'll see.
And with some remote experience with dealing with the unknown during H1N1, it's fairly accurate in its portrayal of how humans react in self-preservation mode, where only a select few will step forward and be counted, with many others preferring to take care of their own first, which is perfectly understandable, such as how a father forbids his daughter to interact with friends, or how healthcare workers start to dwindle and refuse to carry on with their duties. The authenticity of human behaviour and reaction to the big unknown, some opportunistic with its unrelated looting, is something that will strike you and make you think about, since they're not as far fetched as you might think, or maybe even succumb to!
Those in power too will also have within them influence to ensure survivability through some leeway in the system of a ballot and luck, and leaves some room to ponder over how those high up in the echelons of society and the system would act as well when faced with moral decisions. It is not really stranger than fiction, and totally believable in our real world, which is what makes Contagion stand out if not for Soderbergh's hand to avoid the pitfalls into making this something like an all out action flick like what Outbreak had become.
Some may find issues with how neatly this all wraps up, but seriously if you use recent incidents as benchmarks, it's not quite far off in how things tend to taper down whether with or without the absence of a cure if we reference both SARS and H1N1. Its shades of real world sensibilities is what makes this something highly recommended, and especially relevant in our world today.