With the engaging preview of Contagion doing the rounds on cable for the past couple of weeks, my curiosity had been whetted as to what all these A List actors were doing in the same movie. When I was asked by SI to review Contagion today, I was not going to be the one to say no!
Contagion is a simplified enactment of how things unfold during global health epidemics such as SARS or Swine Flu.
It’s also about how FEAR spreads faster than anything else and how FEAR could result in breakdown of civil society as we know it.
Contagion touches upon several facets of a global health disaster like politics, bureaucracy, conspiracy theories, fear of bio-terrorism etc. without going in-depth into any one aspect. It scratches the surface and when you start focusing, it moves on to something else.
Some Key Plotlines
This Steven Soderbergh bio-thriller starts with Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) returning to her family in Minneapolis after a business visit to Hong Kong and a short rendezvous with her lover in Chicago (which makes little/no difference to the movie). She is taken extremely sick shortly and Mitch (Matt Daemon), her husband, admits her to the hospital where she is pronounced dead. Beth’s young son contracts the illness and dies.
Around the same time, several other people also die exhibiting the same symptoms. The spread of this respiratory disease soon reaches epidemic proportions.
Dr. Cheever (Lawrence Fishburne) from The Center of Disease Control and Prevention leads an investigation into the deaths. Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) runs the investigation but soon contracts the same deadly disease and dies.
The WHO launches an investigation by sending Dr. Leonora (Marion Cotillard) to Hong Kong to find the genesis of the disease assuming Beth as the first contractor. She is able to trace a bunch of the initial dead people to have come in contact with Beth in Hong Kong in a Casino. The Chinese Official helping her with the investigation comes to know that America is trying to find a cure. He kidnaps Leonora and holds her to ransom to get ahead of the line when the vaccine is ready.
Alan (Jude Law) is a freelance blogger / journalist who holds the opinion that the Government is in bed with pharmaceutical companies to make money from this opportunity and suppress an existing Homeopathic cure. His 12 million followers believe his theory.
Mitch is quarantined and then later released as his body is immune to this virus. His daughter from his ex-partner comes to stay with him and he spends the rest of the movie trying to protect her from the virus and depicting an ordinary man.
What I liked
Strikes Fear into your mind.
Contagion shows how delicately we are balanced in nature and how weak Man is against the power of the invisible i.e. Virus.
Kudos to Soderbergh for not using gory and morbid scenes, which are staple features of such disaster movies, and instead letting your own mind imagine the fear based on the various possibilities he plants.
It genuinely makes you feel conscious when someone near you sneezes or coughs.
Very realistic and strikes fear into our minds.
The scenes involving Beth and Dr. Mears’ sickness symptoms were very realistic. I am still recovering from a bout of sore throat and every time a character coughed, I felt like coughing.
Edgy Background Score
The background score keeps you on the edge of the seat eagerly awaiting what’s going to happen next.
It is minimal, simple and edgy.
What I Didn’t Like
Slowly fizzles out with absolutely no twists or turns and no grand conclusions.
The biggest problem with the movie is it doesn’t seem to go anywhere after a point. It doesn’t even attempt to up the ante.
While it may have been Soderbergh’s intent to keep the focus on the Fear Psychosis, it definitely robs the movie of entertainment value, which is the primary goal of Movie Watching.
Even the good background score’s effect starts waning once you realize there is no magic rabbit coming out of any hat.
Millions of people across the world are said to be affected. We’re told that 1 out of 12 people will become affected. However, only Dr. Cheever and the cool as cucumber Scientist/Researcher Dr. Ally are shown working on the research/cure.
No action is taken to free Dr. Leonora when she is kidnapped. She is shown freely teaching the dozen Chinese kids belonging to the kidnapper’s family.
In the US, cities are quarantined, Curfews are imposed, and food distributed in streets as though everyone is living in a refugee camp but the military is hardly shown and the amount of rioting and social breakdown are disproportionately small compared to the magnitude of the situation.
While all the actors put up credible performances no one really stole the thunder or stood apart from the other in an extraordinary way because of the limited screen time and role.
If Soderbergh harbored a fantasy of directing Matt Daemon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lawrence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law in a single movie then he’s realized it.
Perhaps, he is still not out of multi-starrer fetish from the Oceans franchise.
Soderbergh would do pretty well in Bollywood with that fetish
Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law look OLD! Did they forget to don their makeup? Or was that a deliberate move to make them feel real? Who knows! Anyway, Jude Law gets some scope to act while the ladies have few scenes before they’re bumped off or kidnapped.
Matt Damon constantly stays scared and has precious little to do. But he is credible in his role of a regular guy. Lawrence Fishburne is fine as the lead researcher from CDC.
I was most impressed with Jennifer Ehle, the researcher who finds the vaccine. She seemed immersed in her character and very convincing.
Contagion is definitely far superior, better and eminently watchable compared to all the recent Bollywood/Kollywood trash and some of the Hollywood drivel.
If you absolutely want to watch a movie this weekend then despite the lack of a grand denouement, I recommend Contagion for a rare dose of fear without the blood and gore of a slasher / horror film.
I am not saying Contagion is a bad movie but it’s too simple and linear to hold your attention beyond a point.
If you prefer style over substance then you may be satisfied.