“Contagion” movie review

HollywoodNews.com: The 106-minute cut of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is a generally engaging and always intelligent film. It is clearly Soderbergh’s attempt to play around in the Irwin Allen disaster genre in a style that befits the director’s more buttoned-down and vérité style. But like Traffic before it, this would-be epic feels like the abridged version of a much longer film. Traffic was supposed to be an all-encompassing look at the futility of America’s Drug War and the damage that it causes at home and abroad, but it played out like as a choppy, unfocused, ‘highlights-only’ variation of the British mini-series from which it was based. Contagion, which is not based on any prior source but rather an original Scott Z. Burns screenplay, has the same problem, even more so because it is nearly an hour shorter than Traffic. Contagion is more successful in imposing its viewpoint on the audience, and it’s arguably a better film, but I still can’t help but wonder how much more effective the 150-minute version of Contagion would have been.

A token amount of plot: Okay, this one is going to be easy. A flu-like illness seemingly originating from Hong Kong finds its way around the world and quickly starts racking up infections and a body count. As the virus spreads and the civilized world panics, those entrusted with containing and treating such an illness race against the clock to prevent full-scale devastation. That’s pretty much it. While the film is mostly focused on American scientists and American victims, it makes a point to show how this calamity is effecting the rest of the world as well. We focus on CDC scientists (Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle), US government/military officers (Bryan Cranston, Enrico Colantoni), and various outsiders looking in (Jude Law, Matt Damon).

Some of these peoples’ stories intersect while others are connected only by their common goal: survival in the face of a seemingly unstoppable pandemic. There are no real out-and-out villains, although we may disagree with the actions of at least a few major characters (Jude Law’s paranoid blogger skirts the line of villainy). But overall, the film is a clinical and seemingly objective look at intelligent and diligent professionals doing their job in the highest of high-stress situations, along with snapshots at how regular citizens are responding to the crisis. Matt Damon does fine and subdued work as the representative ‘every-man’, struggling to protect his daughter after his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) and step-son die in the earliest days of the epidemic. But this is not a character melodrama, and some audiences may be turned off but the documentary-style approach and the clinical way that the story is told.

Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures

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