Contagion (USA, 2011): A good, solid effort

One doesn’t expect a disaster movie to be quiet and respectable – still less that it might be engaging all the while. I’m more used to cutting my losses: thrills and tension come at the expense of what Matt Damon calls a “paranoia aesthetic”, and there’s usually lashings of anti-corporate, pseudo-dissident claptrap too.

Contagion avoids all that, until the last frame. It’s set in large part in Minnesota and seems to enjoy the understated, big-boned people to be found there. They become hysterical, when they must, in rather a sound way. One expects John Sandford’s Luke Davenport and Virgil, his burly hippie sidekick, to stroll by at any moment.

Contagion doesn’t feature the masses and their sob stories nearly so much as it dwells on the travails of bureaucrats of every sort. I’d say, from some experience, that US officials and their offices, and US academics and their laboratories, really are as depicted here, and it’s mostly a reassuring picture.

There is one hilarious moment when someone saws open Gwynnie’s skull, and peering inside, is astonished at what he finds. Her performance is splendid, as they all are. Jennifer Ehle draws the shortest straw and has to act inside a hazmat suit. Jude Law is suitably unattractive as the only real villain: a blog-creep. There is one very memorable line, when a scientist declares that blogs are no more than graffiti with punctuation.

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Publication date

10 November 2011


On movies