Steven Soderberg’s newest film “Contagion” is a virus film with a premise similar to “28 Weeks Later.” There are scenes of people getting quarantined, scenes of empty rooms and streets, government cover-ups, riots, and so forth. However, instead of being about a virus that causes people go insane and eat flesh, it’s about a flu. People get it the same way you would get a normal flu or cold except it’s deadlier. This makes “Contagion” far more realistic then other virus films because a deadly flu is far more plausible then flesh-eating zombies.
“Contagion” follows the complete evolution of a Bird Flu-like virus, from its very beginnings when a few people get sick, to massive death, and finally to the production of a vaccination. It focuses on multiple groups of people all around the world experiencing it day by day. Even with such a heavy subject the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. There were plenty of intense sequences of sick people dying and people killing one another for supplies, but then there were light moments, to ease the tension. The film was never too depressing.
The cast is made up of many big-name actors. There’s Matt Damon as Thomas Enhoff, a man whose wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is one of the first people to get the disease, and who has to try and survive the chaos with his daughter. Then there’s an especially cheeky Jude Law as Alan Krumwiede, a blogger who’s trying to expose the real truth about the virus that the government is trying to cover up. Finally there are a number of different scientists, played by Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Ehle, who are trying to figure out the origin of the virus so they can create a vaccine.
As a whole all the actors did a fine job. None of them were terrible, or necessarily boring but it would have been better if Soderberg had either casted the film with unknowns, or reduced the number of familiar faces because frankly, they get a little distracting. After a while you begin to stop noticing their characters and focus more on the fact that they’re famous. As more and more pop up, from Elliot Gould to Demetri Martin (really?) it became like a game of “spot that celebrity.”
In addition, the script is a little too big. Writer Scott Z Burns has enough stuff here for a miniseries rather then a 105-minute movie. So the film has trouble balancing all the different characters and events, which results in underdeveloped characters.
In spite of that, Burns’s script is still full of informative as well as fun dialogue. There are a couple of good one-liners, like when Elliot Gould’s character is talking to Jude Law’s and he refers to blogging as “Graffiti with punctuation.”
Another thing to note in “Contagion” is its subtle, almost casual approach to the whole sickness. Take for example a scene at the beginning when Ethan’s wife gets the virus and is rushed off to the emergency room, where she quickly dies. Soderberg doesn’t stretch out the scene (not a lot shots of doctors trying to save her), no emotional music is played and Ethan doesn’t start crying right away. The scene feels more natural than if it had been overdramatic because in real life there is no emotional music and people die instantly sometimes. That adds another level of realism to the picture.
In the end “Contagion” is effective in showing a deadly virus outbreak, and talking about health. Though I can’t say it made me want to go wash my hands after seeing it. I never felt like I was quite there with the characters, experiencing the events with them. Otherwise, it’s a slick, fast-paced thriller that could have been near perfect had it narrowed its range and cut down on the big names.
3 out of 4