Steven Soderberg is one director who has a colorful and somewhat impressive resume; his best works include “Solaris”, “Ocean’s Eleven”, “Erin Brokovich”, and “Traffic” so I guess it would be easy to expect much from him. Soderbergh’s “Contagion” is a movie that can easily be ruined by expectations from its viewer. I tend to see a director as someone who is only as good as his last work, so I went to see it with an open mind. “Contagion” is not a film about a family, a town or a person; rather it is a film about the world and a virus. It is a film about how a virus affects a world and its inhabitants. It does get all the right elements and its concept is far-reaching; Soderberg and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns’ film is rich in commentary and drama, but somehow, while I think it is a good film, I feel that it had merely touched upon the realities of the horrors of a fatal worldwide virus.
The film follows the widespread indirect progress of a lethal virus that only takes a few days to incubate. It begins as Beth (Gwyneth Palthrow) returns home on a trip from Hong Kong, with a bit of a flu symptom but soon, she collapses and passes away to the shock of her husband (Matt Damon). There is a very lethal virus that is threatening the entire world, and the CDC led by Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Ellen Mears (Kate Winslet) and the World Health Organization with Dr. Orantes (Marion Cotillard) mobilizes to find the source of the virus and to develop a vaccine. Time is very important as politics, panic and pride tend to make the damage being brought forth by the virus much worst even as the fatality rate reaches the hundred of thousands….
The film is shot in various parts of the world. This way, the viewer is made to feel the sense of urgency in its proceedings, as “Contagion” tries to get under one’s skin. The film is a fast-moving thriller (it all happens in a matter of days, almost over a month) that begins as an investigation as our characters are taken to one sequence to the next as they try to find the roots of the virus. It also has a huge cast (Elliott Gould, Enrico Colantoni, Bryan Cranston, Demetri Martin, Judd Law and John Hawkes also join our lead players) as the script tries to cover as much ground as possible. Once the viewer gets better acquainted with the fatal effects of the virus, we see more of a social commentary on human behavior, how politics can easily undermine the best efforts, fear can breed a ‘dog eat dog’ attitude, as even human greed can play a factor in a given situation. Fear encourages unrest and damages social order; and as a result weakens a civilization’s infrastructure. References to the Spanish flu and the recent H1N1 scare and SARS are rich in the film.
Soderberg does seem to have the right ideas in place and he seemed to have done his homework. I liked how the film brings forth the darkness of human behavior, how big organizations seemed to be busy with the politics and how there can be courageous individuals who would risk everything to solve a problem. The direction expresses these issues through the use of interactions and dialogue and the other strengths of its key characters. Soderberg also makes for some snazzy cinematography that keeps the film moving, as he seemed to be able to express the visceral peril and exigency of the situation. It was an expression of how the world is moving and how people need to move with it. It shows the desperation of others, while others try to maintain a sort of order. “Contagion” has no issues trying to get its points across, but somewhere along the way, the film just has so much going on that while each subplot made an impact, that impact feels a little light and it lacks with some more narrative power. It was not that it wasn‘t coherent, but merely touching upon various factors in a premise can lessen the narrative‘s potential, as in making the film grab the viewer with a truly powerful, compelling and engaging sort of drama.
Perhaps I was allowing my expectations to take hold of my opinion of the film, I am not trying to say that the film lacks power, but it may have overreached a little. There were some subplots while necessary proved to be a hindrance to the inherent darkness being established in the film. I really thought the subplot with Chinese as something that opened a can of worms, and I thought the Matt Damon character should’ve been developed more in the screenplay. It wasn’t so much as the character was wasted, but I was just a little dissatisfied how he was injected into the screenplay during the middle. He is after all, someone to be seen important and yet, it had been left hanging. I understand that it was an expression of politics and human negligence, but I didn’t like the way it was written.
That said, the film is superbly acted. Kate Winslet steals the show as the CDC agent with a whole lot of courage and much more to sacrifice. Matt Damon had always been a great actor and he does well as the father who had so much lost. The rest of the cast was also good, and the film does have some effective moments of drama that made it easy to like, and I stayed interested in its entirety. Soderberg also proved quite capable in executing the set designs and exercises a sense of restraint. The film does feel realistic and avoids the Hollywood trappings of a viral menace such as in “Outbreak”.
Despite my minor issues with the direction and story, I thought Soderberg did a good job in commanding my attention. “Contagion” may be a little strained, but it is ambitious, and I have to give it points for covering what needed to be said, though it didn’t really go all the way. It is pretty competent in what it wanted to do; it examines all the titular possibilities, as it goes into the details of each action and reaction. It does remind me of the earlier works of Sidney Lumet, and despite some minor misgivings, “Contagion” was a lot better than I expected, though it could’ve been a lot more, and much longer than 105 minutes. I love simplicity, it is a thing of beauty; I just wished there was much more power to “Contagion”. I feel that while it was good and gives some room for the viewer to think for himself, it barely scratched the surface….
*** out of **** Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion" feels like a documentary film shot through the lenses of a gloriously high-quality film camera. Perhaps this is because in a sense, it kind of is. The film is about a deadly epidemic/pandemic - unidentified and initially untreatable - that starts to spread across the globe; from Hong Kong to Atlanta. The basic plot concerns a number of different people ranging from scientists to a blogger; all of whom react in significantly different … more
CONTAGION Directed by Steven Soderbergh I’m not sure I can in good conscious recommend Contagion to anyone at all. It’s not that it’s a bad film; it’s just that seeing it has potentially damaging consequences on your psyche. About ten minutes into watching it, you might become hyper aware of your surroundings. Coughing noises will become amplified while your armrest might suddenly feel stickier than it did when you first sat down. In fact, by the time you’ve … more
Star Rating: In an age when medical thrillers are more about action sequences and gory makeup effects (Doomsday, the Resident Evil films), along comes Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, a cold, methodical, observant social commentary. It takes us through the stages of a worldwide viral epidemic with eerily convincing logic, and with disturbing emotional detachment. It’s not about the art of storytelling so much as the craft of depicting a medical emergency … more
A couple of years ago, news and health agencies the world over were concerned about a possible pandemic stemming from bird flu and swine flu. Thankfully like SARS a few years earlier, the outbreaks were rather small thanks to a wealth of precautionary information and measures. In the new film “Contagion” director Steven Soderbergh paints a frighteningly realistic look at a worldwide pandemic that spread without warning, and its devastating aftermath. When businesswoman Beth Emhoff … more
By Joan Alperin Schwartz An international traveler reaches into the snack bowl at an airport bar before passing her credit card to a waiter. A business meeting begins with a round of handshakes. A man coughs on a crowded bus. One contact. One instant. And a lethal virus is transmitted. Great premise. Great beginning. but unfortunately, that's not enough to make a great film. 'Contagion' … more
Major yawn. The only reason I don't add more minuses is the acting was solid despite the general weakness of the story. This was too much an "inside" movie to be anything close to a thriller and the conspiracy storylines were too weak to rescue it as a conspiracy type movie.
Big cast, big story, big fear, lots of talk but little action. Despite being a big fan of Matt Damon, this is one movie where I don't think he excels in. In fact, you won't even notice he's there. Waste of talent, I feel. No punch. Not surprises. Nothing new here!