Contagion

Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is heavy on sobering medical drama but, truth to tell, a little light on thrills, writes DONALD…

Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle, Elliott Gould, Bryan Cranston, John Hawkes 12A cert, general release, 106 min

Steven Soderbergh's Contagionis heavy on sobering medical drama but, truth to tell, a little light on thrills, writes DONALD CLARKE

YOU CAN’T HATE a film that arranges for Gwyneth Paltrow to have her inanimate features – literally, rather than figuratively dead in this case – unceremoniously peeled from her more than usually pale head. She’s had it coming for years.

Happily, there are other pleasures to be had from the latest, characteristically dry Steven Soderbergh picture. Detailing the progress of a killer virus throughout the globe, Contagionis rich in convincing detail and profits from some committed performances. That noted, you could not, with a clean conscience, call it particularly exciting.

Augmented with subtitles detailing the duration of the epidemic, the picture begins with Paltrow, unfaithful wife to honest Matt Damon, coughing ominously over a dark screen. Some days later, she arrives home and, after turning an unhealthy shade of green, keels onto the kitchen floor in a mass of spume.

The doctors are, at first, unsure of what’s going on. But, after more cases appear in many countries, they conclude that they have encountered a deadly virus created by unfortunate interactions between bats and pigs. (Sadly, nobody christens the disease bat-pig flu.)

As ever, Soderbergh, still respected despite a string of flops, is able to call upon the services of a host of fine actors. This cool, restrained film is, in one sense at least, reminiscent of those bloated 1970s disaster pictures: virtually everybody who speaks is famous. Kate Winslet plays an intrepid doctor. Marion Cotillard is a senior health official. The excellent Jennifer Ehle plays the boffin who finally rounds upon a cure. Even the chap playing Laurence Fishburne’s janitor (John Hawkes) has an Oscar nomination.

Soderbergh and writer Scott Z Burns, the director's frequent collaborator, soberly ponder what might actually happen in such a grim situation. The chaos on the streets is complemented by an apparent detachment behind the camera. Shot in nasty greys and quiet blues, Contagionsteadily takes us through diagnosis, forward planning, logistical quandaries and, ultimately, a slightly uncomfortable resolution.

It's always interesting but, hampered by too many competing plots, never quite grinds past third gear. Contagionshould, however, be commended for turning a supposed crusading blogger (Jude Law), who promotes homeopathic claptrap, into a fully fledged, moustache-twirling villain.

“Print media is dead,” Law, with a Julian Assange accent, bellows. Boo! Boo! Hiss! Hiss!

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