This movie made me want to wash my hands.
Steven Soderbergh’s new virus epidemic film probably isn’t as crazy as I was hoping it would be. In fact, it almost seemed like the logical take on a virus outbreak. There were only minimal amounts of maniacs rioting through the streets, upturning cars, and looting their brains out. Well, there was some of that. But only about as much as a typical Saturday in Detroit (rimshot, please). Instead you get a pretty decent attempt at a screenplay driven end-of-humanity film, one that focuses less on action scenes, and more on the plot points. I liked that, actually. But if I had one criticism with Contagion, it’s that I wish it were actually longer, and showed a little more of the carnage, in addition to showing off that fancy screenplay they wrote.
That’s easy to say, though, and may not have actually worked in execution. One of the film’s best assets was that flew by at lightning pace. And while I would have liked to have seen more, expanding it’s vision may have cluttered up the pacing. I really didn’t find much about Contagion to be boring. Still, throw me a little more mass hysteria, c’mon…
This is getting a lot of comparisons to Soderbergh’s other ensemble film, Traffic. I agree in the sense of the feel and the pacing, but I felt Traffic far exceeded Contagion in character development and emotion. I actually cared about the characters in Traffic, probably because there were less of them, and they had more time put into them. In Contagion, the characters (except for a few) are mainly throwaway, or in some cases completely wasted potential. I would have liked to have seen the Marion Cotillard storyline eliminated, more depth added to the Matt Damon character, and more passion put into the Laurence Fishburne character. I did like the Jude Law (armed with a distracting prosthetic snaggle-tooth) as an asshole blogger storyline, though even there, I wish he was made out to be more of a villain than he was. Kate Winslett was good, as usual. And I always respect a movie that is willing to kill off A-list actors to benefit the story.
Contagion is good for what it is. It’s smarter than most films of the genre, and more grounded in a realistic approach to humanity’s downfall. Nothing ever gets blown out of proportion, but it’s also not that subtle. For the most part it’s a pretty tight script, and at times feels like they skip over things I wish they would have covered more. Right after I saw it I think I gave it a higher score than I currently give it. After letting it sit in my brain for a day, it feels like it could have done more. It’s a great concept, with a good script and good editing, an even better cast (they even fill minor roles like a janitor with a great talent like John Hawkes), but for some reason it still feels like a squandered effort in the end. I’d like to see an extended cut.
Still, it’s a movie I’d recommend you to check out if you’re looking for a trip to the theater. It also has a random supporting role for Demetri Martin. Remember him? But if you have OCD like I do, all the coughing and touching things will make you want to reach for the Purell.
How would you compare it to, for example, "On The Beach"?
Contagion is less of a post-apocalyptic film, as it tries to make it seem like it could happen, say, tomorrow. And that it could happen out of nowhere, for reasons we can't help, and not because of a war/politics.
And while it has a ton of characters, I wouldn't say Contagion is character driven. It's pure ensemble. Everyone is just a cog in the machine. No one stands out as the main character.
It felt more like Network than it did On the Beach.
Yeah, but what about Outbreak? Did this one have any monkeys?
Or 28 Days Later? Any zombies?
Because no monkeys, no zombies, no deal. That's all I'm sayin'.
Although I suppose I'm willing to consider your evaluation of Contagion to Outbreak, even if there are no monkeys....
No monkeys. No zombies. But the scope of Contagion is actually pretty cool now that I think about it. Once they finally reveal the source of the virus, it's kind of neat to think about the one small thing, leading to the next small thing, which lead to 4 small things, then 20 small things, yadda yadda yaddda, the world is doomed. The explanation isn't a man made issue, which is actually kind of nice, because it doesn't have to get preachy. It's kind of a freak coincidence situation, which spoiler free is basically "X got mixed up with Y, and randomly created Z". Maybe it's a lazy explanation, maybe not. I'm no Bill Nye the Science Guy, but it seemed like a *somewhat plausible* explanation. Or it's all Hollywood crap. I don't know. Probably crap. I still liked it.
It was a different approach than something like 28 Days Later, where that was basically the opening laboratory scene, then a month passes and Cillian Murphy wakes up in his hospital bed all confused and stuff. They tell about the actual outbreak of the virus through dialogue, which actually worked great because it made you imagine what it was like as opposed to spelling it out for you. They are two different approaches, though, like zombie apples to bird flu oranges. For the record I think 28 Days Later is VASTLY superior to Contagion. But it's more of an action oriented movie, where Contagion is more dialogue driven, I suppose.
In comparison to Outbreak, I haven't seen that in years, but wasn't that more of a small town containment kind of movie? Contagion is definitely a global scale picture.
But Contagion could have definitely used zombies. People more or less just coughed a bunch, then had a seizure and died. Seemed like a horrible way to go out. Not even chicken soup and TBS reruns could stop it!
According to an editorial written by the top virus guy at CDC they were going for realism vs horror or zombies in this movie. It sounds like perhaps government resources were used to create the movie virus and this guy consulted. Whatever. It looks good. Outbreak revealed the possibility of the government bombing a town to contain an outbreak...they can do that. Heck if Bush authorized the shoot down of passenger jets on 9/11 you can be sure other containment measures would be on the table. Zombies are fun but have no place in a real world movie. Although most people do not have the good looks of Winslet, Paltrow or Law so perhaps they should not have been there either!
Back in the 80's The brits made a film called "threads" which to me was superb in portraying a situation of catastrophic proportions.