It all happened so fast. One moment Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) was back from a business trip to Hong Kong to be with her family, and the next she was looking a little green around the gills, coughing and exhausted. Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon), unaware of what she had actually got up to when she was away, was concerned but thought she simply had picked up a bad cold, so when she collapsed in the kitchen he realised something worse was going on and phoned an ambulance. Soon their young son began to show symptoms - and then Beth died.
Every so often in the world there will be someone telling us we're all about to die, and one of those things about to wipe us out forever is some variant on influenza in the Spanish Flu manner such as Swine Flu or Bird Flu, which was the premise behind Contagion. This was one of director Steven Soderbergh's ensemble pieces in the vein of Traffic or the more contemporary to this Haywire, whereby he took the Robert Rodriguez route of filming a bunch of stars independently of one another, mostly anyway, for a few days each making the end result affordable and celebrity-studded in the process. The fact that we were seeing them all in danger of their lives was another attraction to audiences.
That was because there was nothing those audiences liked more in the 21st Century than someone telling them about a disaster, and the bigger the better, although for most people no matter how realistically they were presented they preferred the fictional kind to the factual type. Or did they? Soderbergh and scriptwriter Scott Z. Burns worked to a template that perhaps people were not quite as admirable as they might like to think, or at least a large swathe of them were: basically, the closer the public resembled a mob then the more untrustworthy they were. So no sooner do victims begin dropping around the globe than the survivors start to behave badly, and that means suspiciously and selfishly.
There was a definite moralistic tone to this apocalypse, which though it adopted a science fiction notion preferred not to have too much speculation of how society would completely break down in the event of a mass outbreak of a deadly virus. They were more interested in why the population did not trust the professionals and authorities anymore, and that was encaspulated in one character, internet conspiracy journalist Alan Krumweide (Jude Law with an Australian accent for some reason). He spreads what he sees as the truth about the unreliable at best powers that be, which basically means he believes they are more interested in saving their skins than those of the man, or woman, in the street.
In Laurence Fishburne's character, a government scientist in charge of research into the disease, he has sort of a point, but Soderbergh makes it clear he is sympathetic and working for the best for as many of those he can save. The internet comes in for a bashing as Alan proves almost as bad for the public health as the virus with so many swallowing his anti-establishment line, but then there are a lot of those who act reprehensibly too, with looting widespread and violence among the citizens strong enough to fight over a frozen meal as issued by the inadequate health board. To keep with the smaller picture as well as the larger, we follow both the professionals trying to stop this panic in its tracks such as Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard, plus returning regularly to the apparently immune Mitch and his teenage daughter (Anna Jacoby-Heron) who he wraps in figurative cotton wool, though we can quite understand why. No matter how this ends, whether for the better or otherwise, what we have seen of humanity leaves us with misgivings. Music by Cliff Martinez, as businesslike as the rest of it, until a bout of U2 adds a dose of out of character schmaltz.
Versatile American writer, director and producer whose Sex Lies and Videotape made a big splash at Cannes (and its title has become a cliche). There followed an interesting variety of small films: Kafka, King of the Hill, noir remake The Underneath, Schizopolis (which co-starred his ex-wife) and Gray's Anatomy.
Then came Out of Sight, a smart thriller which was successful enough to propel Soderbergh into the big league with The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Oscar-winning Traffic and classy remake Ocean's 11. When Full Frontal and his Solaris remake flopped, he made a sequel to Ocean's 11 called Ocean's 12, material he returned to with Ocean's 13. Che Guevara biopics, virus thriller Contagion and beat 'em up Haywire were next, with the director claiming he would retire after medication thriller Side Effects and Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra. He returned after a period of even greater activity with heist flick Logan Lucky and his first horror, Unsane.