Two days after returning home from Hong Kong on a business trip, Beth Emhoff's (Gwyneth Paltrow) nasty cold escalates from coughing and looking ugly to seizing and death.
|Death: When you're too ugly to live|
|"I get it. She's dead. I've got an owwie on my soul. Do I get a lollipop?"|
|"Relax...you won't die. You're just part of the Matrix"|
|I'd wear a raincoat, just the same|
Contagion was directed by Steven Soderbergh, and it is obvious from the very first that this one of his "Issue" movies. The storytelling style and camerawork are often reminiscent of Traffic, but without the complex moral dilemmas. Of course, that film had the benefit of moral decisions in the plot, while Contagion is more about survival. Not having a humanoid enemy makes a big difference, doesn't it? It's not that I disliked Soderbergh's direction here; it is simply pretty standard fare for a movie with so many interlinking plots. The one bit of artistic flair that you will see from the director comes when he focuses on what sick people have touched --- I thought that was a clever bit of work that showed how vulnerable everyone is to a disease that is spread through the germs we leave via physical contact. Soderbergh also deserves some credit for getting such a noteworthy cast into so many small roles, even if some of the actors were underutilized.
Speaking of the actors,even with such a large cast, the heart of the story was dependent on just one. Matt Damon was very good as the surviving husband of patient zero; normally, a role like this would be painful to watch, since the character is essentially grieving for the whole film, but Damon handled it beautifully with a believable and sympathetic performance. Jude Law probably leaves the second biggest impression as the closest thing to a villain that the movie has. He was slimy, despicable and annoying. I thought it was interesting that the film portrayed a blogger with such power and reach, and yet made sure to make him a complete douche bag.
|Complete with his matching suit|
|Unless Cotillard was actually kidnapped during filming, in which case I'm a jerk|
Looking back, I kind of want to criticize Contagion for focusing so much on the plot and not enough on the characters, given the excellent cast and Soderbergh's ability to make ensemble casts work. But that's not really fair. Soderbergh set out to make a frighteningly plausible film about a pandemic in the modern world, and he succeeded. The film is disturbing at the very least and horrifying if you're anything close to a hypochondriac. The straightforward tone of the narrative makes sure the effect of the plot on your intellect isn't diluted by a sappy love story or anything like that. While something more character-based certainly would have made for a more entertaining film, that's not the point of Contagion. This film was meant to be as realistic as it could be, and it succeeds.