The themes and premises of disaster movies have never really bothered me. Whether it was an asteroid hurtling toward Earth or California breaking off into the ocean, these natural catastrophes, while all possible, just don’t cause me immediate worries. Not so with biological threats. Maybe it’s because there is a relatively recent history of such events taking place in the last few hundred years, or if I just believe these types of thing are more possible, biological apocalypses frighten me to a whiter shade of pale. Ever since I read Stephen King’s The Stand, this type of scenario makes me pause. Even in a fantastical setting as AMC’s The Walking Dead, where a virus turned most of mankind into flesh eating zombies, the very thought of a biological catastrophe seems real and possible, with or without zombies.
Contagion is one the few movies I have watched that has nearly zero entertainment value. There is little that is upbeat or joyous. The movie is listed as a thriller and because of its intensity, I can’t argue this point. To some, the intensity may offer some entertainment value but I didn’t find it so. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good movie.
The best thing writer Scott Z. Burns and director Steven Soderbergh did was to keep the mystery of the origin of virus secret until very late in the movie. It kept me on the edge of my seat and held my rapt attention. The atmosphere is obviously dark but the story line maintains a brisk and terse pace, moving forward in a day by day format that never really bogged down.
The story followed several characters, including victim one and her family, CDC agents, a World Health Organization investigator, and a self serving blogger. The story also spreads out to the people and world surrounding these characters as the world rapidly descends into hysteria and anarchy. Almost all of the story lines worked although the film seemed to stall slightly when the plot revolved around Alan Krumwiede, the blogger. In the end, this thread made more sense than it did for most of the film.
The cast is large and distinguished. None of the roles are big or meaty and none of the performances really stood out for me. This does not mean it wasn’t well acted because it certainly was. The movie is more about the plot and not so much about the characters. Matt Damon, Larry Fishburne, and Jude Law probably had the most screen time but solid work was turned in by Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle, and Elliot Gould. Gwyneth Paltrow’s role was tiny and brief.
Contagion is a movie of scary doom and gloom but it never seemed preachy in pushing across its point. It showed how precariously unprepared we are if such a virus, either man-made or created by nature, were to break out and attack the general public of the world. To me, it seemed more of a warning and it certainly gave me a certain degree of fright. I don’t how this movie will play with those who nominate and vote on Golden Globes and the Oscars. The movie was well written and directed, and has certainly played well in the theater but I see few of the acting performances as award worthy – Winslet was probably the best in a supporting role. Contagion is a good movie, just not an overly entertaining or uplifting one. I would keep young or overly sensitive children away because the premise is extremely upsetting. The theme has not kept people way from the theaters but I doubt the film will lose anything on DVD. And it is a movie I can’t imagine many people will need to see twice however good it was the first time.
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