Movie Review: Contagion

There... is everybody happy?  Paltrow in the throws of death!

After spending two weeks with a sore throat, stuffed up sinuses and hacking cough, it seemed only natural to head to a movie theater and watch a movie about a fast spreading killer disease that goes to obsessive compulsive lengths to show how every surface touched is a vector for viral transmission.  I’m sure my occasional coughs and sniffles made more than a few people nervous (as an added bonus, most of the theater was elderly) while watching Steven Soderbergh’s latest film Contagion.

With its cinematic DNA harking back to the great disaster films of the 1970’s (Earthquake, Airport ’77, Towering Inferno, etc.), this film is packed with big name actors and multiple story lines as we follow this particular virus from day 2 of infection until a vaccine is created on day one hundred and something or other.

The film opens with a cough… one of my favorite movie tropes of all time is that if someone coughs, they will soon be dead… and true to that trope, Gweneth Paltrow is the woman with the cough, and the sheen of sweat that tells us, “oh oh, she doesn’t look too well”.  Having just returned from a business trip to Hong Kong, with an adulterous lay over in Chicago, Gweneth arrives home to hubby Matt Damon.  Death quickly follows and the story is kicked into high gear.

I must admit… I don’t completely understand the Gwyneth Paltrow hate.  Apparently, her dying has become the number one reason people are excited about this movie.  Why so much scorn and derision?

Filling out the rest of the assemblage of massive star power are Laurence Fishburne and the gorgeous and lovely Kate Winslet representing the CDC, the also gorgeous and lovely Marion Cotillard giving a wonderful face to the WHO and most importantly, representing the face of bloggers… and quite accurately I must say (wink, wink)… Jude Law.  But don’t worry… they uglied him up a bit… they gave him a snaggletooth and a conspiratorial mind frame.  But don’t let that fool you… all bloggers look JUST like Jude Law!  Those are the main roles… but don’t fret, minor roles are filled by such stars as John Hawkes, Bryan Cranston,  Demitri Martin… and what sort of all-star cast would it be without the appearance of Elliot Gould (who looks fantastic)?

The film progresses along with the virus… tense, nerve wracking and a by the book procedural that has more in common with And the Band Played On than Outbreak.  Obviously a great deal of care was given to make this as realistic as possible… but at times the film felt a slow.  Certain outcomes seem inevitable with very little in the way of any real danger.  For whatever reason, I felt the outcome long before we knew it on screen.

What is accomplished is the sense that everywhere we turn is the opportunity to catch something icky.  Noticing how often I was touching my face, the popcorn bag, the arm rests, my soda cup, Red Vines package, back to my face… and the film focuses on just those moments.  By the end of the film, the majority of the theater goers headed straight to the restroom and washed their hands… vigorously.

Society breaks down, nerves are jangled and it’s a race against the clock as the virus mutates and the scientists get closer and closer… while the blogger incites panic and doubt.  A well crafted film by a master film maker.  Very well made, but overall, a bit dull.  I suppose that is possibly the most realistic element of the movie… life can be remarkably boring with punctuations of fear and worry and the only thing more frightening than killer viruses may be our fellow man and greed.

If you are a germophobe, I wouldn’t suggest seeing Contagion anywhere other than a clean room… if you enjoy a good mystery where the bad guy is microscopic, this is the film for you.  Just remember, wash your hands and stop touching your face.

Wiping down my keyboard,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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