Movie Review: Contagion

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.  Granted, there was some of that.  But only about as much as a typical Saturday in Detroit (rimshot).  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.

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 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 see 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 as an asshole blogger storyline, though even there, I wish he was made out to be more of a villain.  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.

7.5 out of 10

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