The opening sequence follows people going about their everyday lives, but the camera lingers just long enough on every surface they touch or come in contact with. It's just noticeable enough to start a feeling of paranoia and dread that director Steven Soderbergh keeps up throughout the film.
The script by Scott Burns, with input from experts in public health and medicine, is incredibly detailed and epic in scope, both in terms of geography and the tapestry of characters it follows. CONTAGION mixes science with tension as it tracks the cause and spread of the disease alongside the response and effect around the globe, including world governments, corporate America, the media and the families affected by tragedy. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is how the film portrays the social breakdown of society during times of great distress, how the drive for personal survival can take control and affect our very humanity.
Tightly edited, fiercely paced and urgently scored by Cliff Martinez, the film is definitely not your standard thriller. In place of action scenes or car chases are scientists working in laboratories or discussions about the logistics of quarantining entire cities. It's scarier than your typical outbreak movie because everything is handled more realistically without the standard Hollywood tropes. The MEV-1 virus may be fictional, but it's not hard to imagine everything happening exactly like this across the planet. We've seen riots and mass panic for far less serious things.
The subject matter and its presentation could be cold, calculating and methodical, but Soderbergh doesn’t forget about the strong emotional aspect of the situation and CONTAGION remains very relatable despite the large blanket of characters and settings. And that's helped in large part to the incredible, perfectly cast ensemble of A-list stars including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law. Everyone has relatively small but highly effective roles. (Matt Damon’s reaction to his wife’s death is particularly well done.) The movie is also peppered with "bit" players who only get one or two scenes—Bryan Cranston, John Hawkes, Elliot Gould and even Demetri Martin—yet add enough star power to elevate the tension. There are so many names in this film it feels like one of the old disaster movies from the 70s, but executed much, much better.
The CONTAGION Detectives: Some of the stars briefly talk about researching their roles and meeting some of the actual experts in their field.
CONTAGION: How a Virus Changes the World: This quick PSA warns you about the spread of disease and little things you can do to prevent getting sick. Wash your hands!
The set also comes with a DVD and a stupid UltraViolet Digital Copy.
Extra Tidbit: The fictional MEV-1 virus used in the movie is actually based on the equally scary Nipah virus that spread in Malaysia in the 1990s.