Posted on 9/16/11 10:13 PM
To quote Rotten Tomatoes, Contagion is, "tense, tightly plotted, and bolstered by a stellar cast," but after walking out of the theater I can't help but wonder if the critics watched the same movie I did.
Contagion's plot is that a mysterious virus has appeared and is threatening the gobal population. We follow several members of the CDC, including Lawrence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, and Marion Cotillard, a zealous blogger played by Jude Law, and an everyman played by Matt Damon. While the CDC is trying to find the origin of the plague as well as a means to stop its spread and cure it, Jude Law is attempting to make the CDC look like they're only in it for themselves and the pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile Matt Damon is stuck in the middle to view the chaos that ensues as a result of the panic in the streets.
I'm going to get the positives out of the way first. The film is acted well enough. It's well paced and sets the appropriate tone for its subject matter. The idea that a virus can appear from seemingly nowhere and start killing millions within a few short months is terrifying stuff. I would hate to turn on the news and hear reports that any random encounter in the street could potentially get me fatally ill. It's also cool to see a realistic depiction of how the world health organizations would handle such an outbreak.
Unfortunately that is all the movie has going for it. The cons are a little more numerous. It's hard to know where to start. The cast is A-list but none of them are properly characterized. A good few of them are even pointless to the plot (I'm looking at you Marion Cotillard). Characters pop up out of nowhere to try and add some human drama to the story but mostly its just irritating because they are just another distraction from the main focus of the story.
Spoiler Alerts! Why should I care that Gwyneth Paltrow was cheating on Matt Damon before the virus took her when the movie never shows us what their relationship was like? Why is Matt Damon immune and why don't they try to use his blood to find a cure? Wait, he has a daughter from a previous marriage? Lawrence Fishburne is engaged to Sanaa Lathan? How come we never hear about her before she suddenly appears on screen? Why is Marion Cotillard in this film since her character disappeared for a large portion of it only to randomly appear once more and run off to never be seen/heard from again?
I could go on and on. This script feels like a first draft that somehow got the OK to be filmed before any edits or rewrites. A drama is only compelling when you know who the characters are. Why should I care about these people when I don't know what any of them are motivated by? The movie also goes on for half an hour longer than it needed to.
Contagion is an example of a good idea with bad execution. With some rewrites, edits, and the removal of certain characters this movie could have been a really good medical thriller. As it stands however it's just a great concept done poorly. Better luck next time Soderbergh.