Film Review: Contagion

Film:  Contagion
Director:  Steven Soderbergh
Starring:  Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow,  Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston
Release Date:  09/09/11 (theatres) / 01/03/12 (DVD)
Studio:  Warner Bros. Pictures
Tagline:  Don’t talk to anyone.  Don’t touch anyone.
Plot: “A thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with the outbreak.”  (Source: IMDB)

Review Score:  3/5

No film in 2011 quite encapsulated the mood of today’s America and, for that matter, the world.  Panic has metastasized itself into many forms: revolutions, political upheaval, movements, the H1N1 virus outbreak and Fukushima nuclear disaster.  Yet, we’ve also experienced the effects they have on us.  As Contagion shows, our weakness is no longer simply the situation itself, but also how we handle it.

The first thirty minutes is, sadly, the film’s best.  We begin with Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) enjoying herself over dinner, drinks and gambling in Hong Kong.  An ordinary depiction of life, unaware of the invisible danger that lay ahead.  By the time we see her arrive at home, the typical symptoms of what we assume is fever, flu or the common cold become…concerning.  Her husband (Damon) follows instinct and seeks out medical attention to no avail.  Transposed over these images are identical depictions of individuals in Hong Kong who suffer similar fates, their families also fallen to shock and grief.  It is here where Contagion flows in a realm where horror fetishists would salivate.  Unfortunately, the horror stops here…

Aside from the film’s first act, supplied with some of the haunting images shown in the trailer, it falls short in several areas simply by taking itself far too seriously.  Those haunting images and dreadful feelings are replaced with hollow examples of panic.  It becomes an exercise in how government agencies handle a crisis both publicly and privately.  By that standard, it is a substantial instruction manual put to film for future reference.  Films like 28 Days Later didn’t succeed with a by-the-books mentality….rather, London was turned into a chaotic, post-apocalyptic world that required a fight for survival.  Here, even Mitch Emhoff’s (Damon) daughter can’t wait for the situation to end, so she can return to normality.  Need I say more?

While the script’s complex dialogue is confirmed accurate by many in the scientific community, this is also it’s alienating property.  True, audiences don’t like to be outsmarted; however, they also want to connect with and fully grasp the action taking place.  Unlike Soderbergh’s Traffic, a critically acclaimed film that utilized an identical intersecting plot to much greater effect, Contagion suffers most when it’s characters engage in discussions that only academics can truly comprehend.  The films focus on this aspect lends it’s otherwise solid pacing to fall a bit flat.

A solid film doesn’t mean completely effective.  This is a Soderbergh film and possesses his characteristics throughout (I did enjoy the 90’s industrial European beats overlaying the random scenes in different cities…a unconscious nod to Seven perhaps).  It is arguably the best virus outbreak movie ever when it tries (key word: tries) to say we’re our own enemy in crisises’, an underlying message it occassionally gets through.  But his talents didn’t translate effectively when asked to add horror to his action-thriller catalog.  The film tagline implies as though after watching this, you will find hand sanitizers and face masks as close companions.  The only thing in mind after the credits roll was wanting to like this movie more than I ultimately did.

Contagion – YouTube:
Contagion – Amazon.com

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