The positive buzz behind Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion seems appropriate, especially considering the powerful ensemble that includes the likes of Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Josie Ho, Demetri Martin, Jennifer Ehle and even Bryan Cranston. Yet, even while a thoroughly engaging and beautiful shot thriller, I found myself completely underwhelmed by the end credits.
In the lobby critics were raving. In fact, I had heard that Warners had shown some press the film a few months ago to see what kind of a beast they had on their hands. Nearly everyone I know loves it (including my wife). From a technical perspective, it’s hard to debate Contagion; the screenplay was solid, the acting was top notch, the scope massive, and the cinematography was both bleak and gorgeous. But even in masterful filmmaking, sometimes it can feel, I dunno, generic? Between Warners’ excellent marketing and the script by Scott C. Burnz, the first act contains a shocker that is something desperately needed in today’s film world. It’s an Earth shattering moment that had my mind swirling in excitement: the filmmakers broke the mold and are actually doing something different (especially with all of the comparisons to the 1995 Outbreak). Beyond this riveting sequence, the rest of the film then falls into place as that aforementioned generic global infection thriller; it begins to spread, the government quickly and quietly reacts, the public riot, people die, etc. etc.
The only new element to Contagion is Jude Law’s character, an online journalist who has 12 million followers. He is anti-government and fighting to tell his audience that they’re being lied to. He claims to have the cure and “proves” it on webcam. While many will call this “smart”, I call it an “obvious” evolution to this kind of film. What urks me, though, is that Burnz and Soderbergh seem compelled to teach the audience that the online world is not to be trusted, and that the government is… a sort of bold political agenda hiding within the sub context. Unless I am misinterpreting the film, the filmmakers are basically stating that, during crisis, calm down and trust your government – they are trying their best to protect you. Jude Law’s character fights against this throughout the entire film, but by the end credits the audience is told that he’s basically a scumbag worse than anyone in the government.
Either way, I found Contagion to be trite. In fact, for me, it was completely emotionless. My wife says I know too much about “this world”, so maybe to me it was an obvious step-by-step procedural on what would happen during an outbreak? Considering I’m in the extreme minority of people who didn’t love the flick I guess it’s possible… Still, Contagion is masterfully competent filmmaking; even on its worse day it’s a good movie. It’s impossible not to recommend, and in fact, I implore you to check it out. If anything, hopefully it’ll get you to start coughing in your hands, and start washing them – dicks.