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CONTAGION review. There is nothing thrilling in Stephen Soderbergh film

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Movie Review of Contagion, starring Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet and Laurence Fishburne. (Add your review)

contagion - matt damonOne of our most interesting directors assembles an all-star cast laced with Oscar-nominated actors and puts them in a thriller of epic proportions and consequences.  And all one can think while sitting through Contagion is:  “why would anyone want to watch this?”

There is nothing thrilling about Contagion.  Movies about viruses rapidly spreading and threatening to wipe out civilization shouldn’t necessarily be fun, but they should be able to put you on the edge of your seat.  Contagion just shows one person after another getting sick, and one researcher after another furrowing their brows worrying. 

It’s disappointing because Steven Soderbergh has taken all-star casts and made great movies before.  Whether it’s the celebrity fun of Ocean’s Eleven or the drug-trafficking drama Traffic, he can tie a big group together and keep you interested.  So you’d hope he could do it with a (potential) end-of-the-world thriller.  But since the threat is a disease, Soderbergh may have felt the movie needed to be overly-serious and respectful of the disease’s victims.  Zombies?  Gross fun.  Nuclear explosions?  Cool to see all the colors and things go boom.  People – including children—dropping dead?  Exhausting after awhile.

The lead character is probably Matt Damon’s suddenly widowed husband and father.  His wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the suspected Patient Zero, just returning from a trip to Hong Kong.  Everything and everyone she touched on her trip is infected by a mysterious virus that we see spread exponentially and rapidly.  When we don’t see Damon and his daughter adapting to a changing world, we follow various officials with the World Health Organization and CDC (heavyweight actors like Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Bryan Cranston) work on finding a cure. 

Sadly, we never get a chance to relate to the medical personnel – there are too many of them and we don’t enough of a chance to relate to them.  There are early signs we’ll latch onto Winslet’s character, but she ultimately ends up wasted.         

The most intriguing character is Jude Law’s blogger – a rabble rouser trying to get to the truth about what the government knows and what they’re doing to help.  His storyline is perhaps most relevant to the age we live in.  This is the first “virus” movie to really look at the “viral” world we live in – how the story would be tackled via 24-hour-news shows, blogs, Facebook and Twitter. 

Damon would be the one guy we probably could relate to most.  He’s no great leader uniting the masses with speeches or actions – he just wants to protect his daughter, the only thing he has left in the world.   Outside of the stars, every other human being in the movie is reduced to an unthinking animal, so you kind of have to root for Damon.  His story is the most interesting.  Meanwhile, the race to find a cure ends up plodding and pretty anti-climactic.

Ironically, the bravest performance may come from Paltrow:  the pretty girl who’s willing to play a diseased corpse. 

Beyond asking “why would anyone want to watch this?” one also wonders “what am I supposed to get out of this?”  If the movie is going to be this depressing, maybe we can at least learn some lessons?  Oh, there are thought-provoking scenarios where you wonder what you’d do if trapped in this situation:  would you loot or wouldn’t you loot?  But really, the ultimate message of Contagion is there is nothing you can do if a deadly disease wants to take you out.  There is nothing here for the everyman.  Unless you’re the doctor who knows how to synthesize an antidote, this movie has no message for you other than:  “don’t touch your face so much” and “always be sure to wash your hands.”


Clip from Contagion: "How Are You Feeling Today?"

Contagion Movie Details:

Genre/s: Thriller Drama
Release Date/s: 9/9/2011 (Showtimes & Tickets)
Distributor:
Production Company: Double Feature Films, Participant Media
Official Site: Contagion Official Site
Alternate Titles:

CAST and CREW FOR Contagion
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Written By: Scott Z. Burns
Produced By: Gregory Jacobs, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher


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