This movie opens on a black screen. You hear audio, people talking, casino noises, but you don't see anything. Then you hear someone start to cough. The second that happens, you're already put on edge for the movie about a disease that threatens to wipe out the planet. It's a brilliant way to open the movie. I smirked when I heard that and got scared at the same time. Sadly, that just might be the best part of Contagion.
Movies about diseases that end the world scare the s**t out of me! It's ten times scarier than a giant tidal wave or earthquakes or zombies or aliens. Diseases are real and they really do harness the power to kill everyone alive. Full disclosure, I was looking forward to this film and wanted it to be amazingly scary. I was so disappointed.
Director Stephen Soderbergh has his ups and downs but never would I call him a hack. He's always looking for ways to push the envelope of cinema or have fun with it. He's impressed critics and audiences with Traffic, Erin Brockovich and the Oceans movies. He's won over only the critics with movies like The Informant! and The Girlfriend Experience. And he's disappointed both audiences and critics with movies like Solaris and Che Part 1 & 2. Where will Contagion fall? That seems to be debatable. I'm gonna play it safe though and say it's something that only critics will enjoy but not the rest.
Contagion is an example of how too many characters on too many story lines can ruin a film. It's not short of A-list firepower at all. It has Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburn, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law to name just a few. All are fine actors that have given us great performances over the years. However, none of these actors play characters that are involved in any cohesive story together. They all are like supporting characters for a movie that has no lead.
Not only does it not have a lead, it has no pulse. It's as if the movie itself got infected and just staggers around in a cold sweat hacking. All the things that make a movie about the end of the world entertaining are shown to us in Contagion with zero zest! Mass panic, a race for a cure, tracking down the disease's origin; these are all in the film but shown to you in a way that makes you not care and certainly not chomp down on popcorn.
My friend Dave went with me to see it. He loved it. He actually liked the fact that it was downplayed so much because he said it made it feel real. I suppose it does; but with a film of this nature, I don't want it to feel so real that I am bored by it. That's what happened with Contagion.
Pulling off a movie with a huge cast of characters is not easy. There are only a few movies that have done it...but Soderbergh is a director that has done that successfully a lot! So what went wrong here? I can only imagine my diagnosis was correct...Contagion is sick.
Contagion (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C