Epidemic thriller starring Matt Damon and Jude Law Reviews

You might think twice about holding the rail on the bus after seeing Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. It’s an engrossing dramatic thriller about a sudden worldwide epidemic of a disease that makes Bird Flu look like nappy rash. The progress of the epidemic, the names of cities and the size of populations flash on screen as the sudden death of corporate manager and suburban wife and mother Beth (Paltrow) on her return from a business trip to Hong Kong sets alarm bells ringing and the mortality rate soaring. Her husband (Damon) might be immune, but he’s desperate for his daughter to stay well and safe. The film plays with our suspicions, puncturing worries that this is going to be a Western tale of ‘yellow peril’ or to include a moral twist linked to the infidelity of one of the first victims. Neither materialise, though the epilogue edges into wishy-washy anti-globalisation territory, but mostly it’s a level-headed, energetic and enjoyable tale of terror and a world gone wrong.

By Dave Calhoun
Time Out Dubai,


  • Duration: 106
  • Released: Thu, 20 Oct
  • Classification: PG15
  • Language: English
  • Website
  • Director: Steven Soderbergh
  • Stars: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tien You Chui, Josie Ho, Daria Strokous

User reviews:

Posted by: Englebert on 29 Oct ' 11 at 04:55

Well it has you gripped from moment one, and continues to grip. And then you realise that the grip isnt going to get any tighter, and it starts to meander - albeit at full grip.

As the disease spreads through touch and respiratory means this particular viewer became very conscious of who was sticking hands in hs popcorn, and he did also become very aware of each time there was a cough in the auditorium!

It hammers home how small the world is, and how quickly such an outbreak could spread, in fact one my fellow critics sat alongside commented on that very point. When he fell asleep for the first time during the movie, there were already 8 deaths and when he awoke some time later, that number had risen to milions. Make from that what you will.

A star studded cast of very familiar faces and a fair sprinkling of eye candy in the shapes of Ms. Paltrow and Ms. Winslet raise at least your expectations yet it just doesn't quite hit the mark.

Excellent performances by all, and special credit to Jude Law who delivers possibly one of Contagion's best and most credible performances.

Definitely go and see the movie and draw your own conclusions but for extra entertainment, go to see it with your most nosophobic friend. Dont forget your sneezing powder, their face mask and a hand sanitizer.

Posted by: Cynthia Zimmerman on 28 Oct ' 11 at 16:09

Draggy and borishly lame. The superstars in this film must have been desperate for roles to take on this debacle. By the time the movie was near the end I was hoping everyone would die already so I could go home and watch tv.

Posted by: Lloyd Bayer on 20 Oct ' 11 at 09:24

What could have been THE motion picture event of the year takes a backseat as an ‘almost-there’ feature that has all the makings of a first class film but is somehow missing that all important finish: Presentation. Having said that, do not underrate this film’s importance in this day and age. The film’s central message serves to highlight the real and present danger we live in today, a danger that can wipe out life on this planet within a matter of days. If you are reading this, then like me, you have survived or avoided some of the deadliest viral outbreaks of the last decade. Even so, we can hardly take solace in that fact because hundreds of thousands of people have not been so blessed.

When we first hear of viral outbreak or the onset of a highly contagious disease, it is usually through live news broadcasts or newspapers and is almost always the first few weeks after the outbreak. Where this film excels is in taking the viewer through the first days of the outbreak and even places us at the source of the virus. As such, when Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a trip to Hong Kong, she is visibly sick and passes the infection to her young son. Both of them die four days after she flies back to Chicago. Even as Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) struggles through his loss, he is lucky to be naturally immune but soon realizes that the death of his wife and son is just the beginning of what lies ahead. Cut to Atlanta, the department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are already aware of a lethal viral outbreak but does not rule out the possibility of a bio-weapon used by terrorists over the Thanksgiving holidays. Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the CDC then deploys Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis to investigate further reported cases. Meanwhile, WHO epidemiologist, Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) travels to Hong Kong to establish the source of the virus. Just as she arrives at the possibility that Beth Emhoff may have been ‘patient zero’ she is kidnapped by a local epidemiologist who holds her ransom for vaccines to treat his family. Back in the US, Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) of the CDC identifies genetic mutation from mixed bat and pig cells and establishes an alarming RO 2 factor, or the ability of the virus to pass from one infected person to two others. At this stage, the virus has become a global pandemic and martial law is instated in major cities due to mass looting, killing, and food shortages. In all this, freelance journalist and conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) becomes a local hero after claiming to have cured himself by using homeopathy and goes on to grab nation wide attention in stating that the CDC and other government organizations are involved in a mass cover-up that have led to the death of millions of infected all over the world.

There are two Hollywood directors that have very similar names while sharing the same initials. While one is an all powerful force in film making, the other is not too far behind. After a spate of high profile casino heist movies, Steven Soderberg is back with one of the most important films of our time. Although this film features a huge array of A-list stars, seven of which have won or was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, this film is a director’s movie, through and through. It is the manner of which the plot unfolds— Complex and multi-faceted, yet uniquely Soderberg. Besides his tendency to cast actors he has previously worked with, Soderberg has reached critical acclaim by choosing to make films that are sensitive or controversial in nature. Although "Sex, Lies and Videotape" and "Erin Brockovich" were his claim to fame, "Traffic" is his best film to date not just for earning him an Oscar for “Best Director”, but for highlighting the world of cover-ups behind the drug trade. With "Contagion", Soderberg fuels controversy again but it drowns amongst the many sub-plots. Another plus point is his convincing scientific arguments in the movie. You have to first isolate a virus, let it thrive and then fight it with an anti-body to create a vaccine. This, the multiplier factor and the controversy seem convincing and very frightening for an average viewer who has no proficiency in the medical field. What stops me from giving this film a 5 star rating is the editing. Though the plot is griping it is too fast paced as there is too much going on during its 106 minute runtime. This negates character development, which in turn does not allow enough time for the viewer to grow on any of the many characters. As a result, there is no protagonist or lead role and at times the film feels live a documentary or live news feed. Another negative I found is the annoying score that seems totally irrelevant to the on-screen action. On that note, if there was no score at all, the plot would have appeared a lot scarier than it is. My final beef is with the abrupt ending. Like I said, there is evidently so much going on during the first three quarters that the final act seems to have something missing. It is not entirely a happy ending, but an ending that could have had a little more detail, nonetheless.

For what its worth, this film is a tense drama, and at times a decent thriller. However, coming from a Hollywood Titan like Soderberg, it could and should have been better. Co-produced by ImageNation Abu Dhabi, if this film is nominated for an Oscar, it is surely big news for the UAE as an emerging force in film production. All the best Mr. Soderberg!


More films in this genre

    San Andreas movie review

Add your review/feedback

Subscribe to Film newsletter

Prove you're not a robot:


Quick Browse


Explore by

Our favourite features