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Contagion should have been a nail biter, but it does make you afraid to bite your nails

Contagion - Theater Review
Release Date: 09/09/2011 - MPAA Rating: PG-13
Clacker Rating: 2 Clacks

Do you ever think about everything you touch in one day and how something along the way could eventually kill you? You will after seeing 'Contagion.' But is it a thriller or an instructional health movie?

Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion" opens September 9

If you have a fear of germs, then you will not want to see Contagion. Even if you’re not a germophobe, this movie just might turn you into one. The plot is fairly simple — a woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns home from Hong Kong with the flu … which kills her and infects everyone she’s come into contact with, and everyone they’ve come into contact with and so on. The CDC and the World Health Organization begin work on tracking down the virus and finding a vaccine, and an internet conspiracy theorist (Jude Law) claims he has an all-natural cure that the government is trying to cover up so they and the pharmaceuticals can cash in on the disaster at hand.

For such a spawling, global movie, Contagion feels very small in scope (compared to Soderbergh’s Traffic, which had an epic feel to it). If you watch the trailer, the editing and the music (which sounded like it was lifted from Daft Punk’s TRON: Legacy score) make this feel like it’s going to be an action-packed, suspense thriller but it moves along at quite the leisurely pace seeing that it takes place over the span of about six months. Things start off rather quickly with the death of Paltrow’s character — and any movie that can kill of Gwen in the first five minutes is okay by me — but the rest of the movie is basically people sitting around and talking about what they need to do. It’s pretty anti-climactic by the end, but it really does make you think twice about everything that you have to touch and the people you come into contact with on an every day basis.

The film, however, is also quite maddening in that it poses a lot of questions that are never answered. Matt Damon‘s character (who is married to Paltrow’s) is found to be immune to the virus. Why? How? We’ll never know. If he’s immune, can’t they develop a vaccine from his blood? No, it takes too long. Marion Cotillard plays an investigator from the WHO who ends up being kidnapped by her associates in China and taken to a remote village where she’s held until she can get some help to save the remaining villagers from certain death (most of them children). But when she’s kidnapped, there is no vaccine (just rumors of one), and her character basically disappears until the vaccine is available and she’s traded … except — and I’m sorry for the spoiler here but it’s necessary — the vaccine turns out to be a placebo, according to her co-worker, she freaks out and runs … to where?  We never know. It seems like she wanted to go back to her captors because she had apparently developed a bond with the children, but she had no idea where she was being held.

One of the biggest enigmas in the movie — even more so than where the virus came from (and we do get an answer to that at the end as the movie resets to Day One) — is just who is Law’s Alan Krumwiede? We know he writes a blog that draws in 12 million unique viewers and he’s proclaiming he has a homeopathic cure that is being supressed. He keeps meeting some guy, but it was never clear (to me) if this mystery man was from a pharmaceutical, the government or the media. We do see Krumwiede as he contracts the virus and uses his miracle cure, but after he’s arrested for some nebulous free speech violation charges — basically using the internet to tell people not to buy into the government’s vaccine propaganda — he’s released on bail, but there is still the lingering question as to whether his cure really worked or if he even really had the virus. Oh, and for some reason Law has decided to give his character a crooked front tooth that looks like something that was just glued on for laughs one day between shots and director Steven Soderbergh loved it. It looks ridiculous and from some of the angles Soderbergh shoots Law, you can plainly see Law’s real tooth (and another hint that this was a last minute addition is the “Prophet” posters plastered all over town with Law’s smiling likeness … with perfectly straight teeth).

I was really hoping for more drama and action, more panicked crowd scenes as medicine and food begin to run out, but there are only two minor incidents even though we do see the devastation and some looting in the background. For all the terror a situation like this virus could cause, there’s very little drama to draw you into the story, even with the amazing star power Soderbergh has on display. We’ve seen this kind of story done before, much worse (Flu Birds) and much, much better (The Andromeda Strainand I even liked Outbreak), and while Contagion certainly does give you a lot to think about (I’ve become very aware now of how many times I touch my face), it seems more like a glorified health movie you had to watch in school. As a heart-pounding action flick, it just falls flat.


Photo Credit: Warner Brothers

Categories: General, Reviews

8 Responses to “Contagion should have been a nail biter, but it does make you afraid to bite your nails”

September 9, 2011 at 9:57 AM

I’ve gone back and forth on this film since I watched it earlier this week. As a viewer, I was really pissed at all of the plot threads left just completely hanging (The ones Chuck mentioned are not the only ones).

The film ended on the big reveal of Day One … How the virus was first passed to a human carrier. To be honest, I couldn’t have cared less. The story, despite being disjointed, managed to get me invested in a couple of the characters, and for their stories being left in the wind they way they were?

Contagion irritated the hell out of me.

September 9, 2011 at 2:38 PM

And it has an 80% rating at the moment on Rotten Tomatoes?!?! People have gone mad! One reviewer seemed to be delighted at Law’s use of the word “crikey.” Twice! You and I have both realized the film is nothing but dangling plot threads. Are we the only ones immune to Soderbergh???

September 9, 2011 at 3:55 PM

I actually like some of his work. I think O11 was outstanding, and O13 was pretty good. I didn’t like Traffic as much as everyone else, but enjoyed Erin Brockovich and loved Out of Sight.

But Contagion? Not so much.

September 9, 2011 at 4:40 PM

I just mean in this instance we’re immune. I loved Traffic and hated all of the imitators — Crash, Babel — and this one seems to be trying to go for that vibe with a story that spans the globe but it just doesn’t hold up as good storytelling. I’m just surprised at some of the “snooty” critics who are falling all over themselves to praise this so much just because it’s Soderbergh. I really was expecting more of an Andromeda Strain virus movie with real suspense and interesting characters who weren’t just left blowing in the wind.

September 9, 2011 at 7:58 PM

I read a few other reviews and most of the “regular folks” seemed to agree that it’s not great. I still want to see it though because I love a good pan/epidemic flick..I recently read a textbook titled “the Coming Plaque” because I’m so fascinated with this stuff. I was really looking forward to it and hoping that I still like since I don’t ever “think” about the plot. My partner always laughs because he’ll figure out the plot of a movie and then ask if I knew something was going to happen, which I rarely ever do. I never EVER try to think about where the plot is going (or has gone really)…I just try to enjoy a movie without questioning plot holes too much! Thanks for the review Chuck!

September 9, 2011 at 8:00 PM

think I’m gonna watch “The Andromeda Strain” on Netflix Streaming tonight!

September 9, 2011 at 8:47 PM

Well, some people are finding it a gripping thriller but I was just too distracted by that stupid tooth and the characters who never have any kind of resolution. Let us know what you think after you see it!

And good pick for a virus/epidemic movie! I remember when I saw that on TV when I was a kid and how scared I was that something like that was going to happen. I’ve never seen that TV remake though.

September 9, 2011 at 9:15 PM

I liked “The Crazies” “28 Days Later” and “The Stuff” (good, cheesy fun!) but now that I think about it most of my favorite virus/epidemic entertainment is in book form. “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston scared the hell out of me all 3 times that I read it and “Contagion” by Robin Cook (I know, I know) are a couple that I really like. And of course, the one I mentioned early “The Coming Plaque” was downright scary…only because it’s real!!!

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