Kate Winslet. Gwyneth Paltrow. Laurence Fishburne. Matt Damon. Marion Cotillard. Jude Law. These are a few of the famous faces in Contagion, a film by Steven Soderbergh. The film details the spread of an unknown virus and the resulting events. Before the screening my friends and I attended, we wondered why this film was being release in September, usually a month reserved for lackluster films. Afterwards, I realized why this movie was opening in the beginning of September and not in November/December.
Unfortunately, with all that A-list talent, the film fails to effectively use its impressive cast. Each star has an important role in the story. Winslet is a pandemic specialist sent to Minnesota by the Center of Disease Control to figure out why and how the disease is spreading in the state. Paltrow is the first known victim and Damon is her husband who happens to be immune. Fisburne is impressive as the head (?) of the CDC. Cotillard plays a worker from the World Health Organization who travels to Hong Kong to figure out how the pandemic began. Law plays a radical blogger who preachers the usage of a homeopathic solution. One of the more frustrating things about this movie was the fact that there was TOO much going on. It was incredibly jumpy, using “Day 1/2/3” labels in a sort of documentary style to creative a narrative. There was almost no interaction amongst the listed actors, and the film would cut to the various locations where the characters were located and as a result, the films jumps from story to story. Most of these stories are never fully resolved and annoyingly, left open to “interpretation.”
I don’t usually mind open ended stories because they can make the audience think and generate discussion, but in the case of Contagion the films jumps into a lot of stories, but doesn’t do anything with them. It’s as though the filmmakers thought it would be a great idea to introduce a certain plot element to make the movie exciting or interesting, but didn’t know how it would fit within the context of a film about disease. For example, someone is kidnapped and forced to stay there into a village is healed. Okay, cool, but what happens then? How does this character react? Does this change her in anyway? Rather than exploring the various issues that result from a pandemic – fear, rioting, anger, death- the film presents these situations in a almost superficial way, in that it fails to dig deeper. Out of fear of contracting the disease, people stop working and begin looting, which the film seems to say is in our human nature, that it’s inevitable that we will resort to a “survival of the fittest”/”all for one” mentality when we are in danger. Although that may be true (I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened), the film doesn’t explain what the consequences of this is. So people start looting…great, then what? How is this resolved? What does the country do to recover from the chaos created by the desperate citizen, by the blogger, by CDC?
I was incredibly underwhelmed by this film. I had foolishly thought that film with so many great actors had to be good, but it seems like all of them needed a little extra money or wanted to hang out together on set. The film offers nothing but a sad attempt at trying to find out what happens when a small series of events affect an almost too interconnected world. You’d probably be better off watching a Dateline or History Channel special on the actual pandemics that have happened in the past, I know I definitely was thinking that throughout this movie.
Bottom line: Wait till this movie is on DVD, more specifically wait until this movie is offered at Redbox where you can rent it for a $1. Or better yet, when it’s playing on the plane. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t do anything for the viewer. Also, Jude Law’s fake snaggle tooth was incredibly distracting.