Director: Steven Soderbergh
Pandemic movies are hardly anything new. More often than not they tend to delve into far-fetched scenarios where zombies run rampant and feast on human flesh. In this regard, Contagion is almost like a breath of fresh air. There are no zombies, and the situation is entirely feasible.
The movie focuses on a rapidly progressing virus outbreak, not unlike the swine flu, that kills those that come in contact with it in a matter of days. It is unknown where this virus came from, at least initially, and it becomes a worldwide concern as the medical community frantically attempts to develop a vaccine. Meanwhile, people everywhere are freaking out, causing mayhem to the streets and others while trying to avoid getting sick. To put it bluntly, this is total chaos.
Rather than dwelling on an individual story or small group of people directly involved in one aspect of the pandemic, director Steven Soderbergh chose to follow people from all over the world. The movie keeps tabs on regular folk, doctors, scientists and even conspiracy theorists. The fact that the movie is spread out with so many different subplots is both a blessing and a curse. I loved the global feel of the movie, as we saw viewpoints from all over the world. However, with so many characters introduced and then dropped in and out of the main storyline, it becomes difficult to feel any connection to them. The multi-character arc is a great idea, but a few characters here and there could have probably been cut out.
I also noticed some issues with the movie’s pacing. Even though it is labeled as a thriller, Contagion really lacks any sense of excitement. The general feeling of hysteria is always there, but the movie tends to rely too heavily on random subplots that offer little emotional weight. As a result, there are moments where things feel like they are crawling along. This is a bizarre problem for a movie that pushes through over 100 days of action in under two hours.
Even though it is difficult to get behind some of the characters, it must be stated that this is of no fault to the cast. Several of the actors have been nominated for Academy Awards in the past, and they certainly do as good as they can with their small roles. Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law seem to get the most screen time. Damon is great as a normal guy who just so happens to be immune to the disease. After his wife and one of his daughters die at the onset of the virus, he attempts to recreate a normal life with his remaining daughter. Fishburne is in excellent form as Dr. Ellis Cheever, an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jude Law delivers perhaps the most enjoyable role of all as a conspiracy theory blogger, even taking a cheapshot at blogging in stride.
Other noteworthy additions to the cast include Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle and John Hawkes. Winslet in particular shines in her limited role, as she usually does. Cotillard’s character arc is perhaps most frustrating, as she enters and then disappears from the movie at long intervals. Again, kudos to everyone involved for getting all of these big name actors, but it would have been great to have them fleshed out some more.
Regardless of these faults, it would be inappropriate to call Contagion a bad movie. It has an excellent cast and a great concept, and I really enjoyed the tense soundtrack as well. The problem is that it simply could have been a lot better.