The first 20 minutes of Contagion completely grab you and you cannot help but plead with the infected to just stop touching every surface they come into contact with. The director Steven Soderberg is able to capture your attention by showing major cities and the population of each. It’s very effective as you imagine how fast this disease will spread. The only problem is, it never pays off. I would have liked to revisit these areas and have the population number literally decrease on the screen. You only ever hear that millions have died worldwide. Sound vague? Yeah, that’s kind of Soderberg’s style.
The movie begins with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow in a very small role) as the first infected person as she spreads the new disease to everyone she comes into contact with. Then they infect 2 people, then they infect 2 people, and so on. Matt Damon plays her husband in a go nowhere role but at least shows the viewpoint of a normal citizen in this pandemic. The rest of the cast, and it really does have a great cast, is involved in the behind-the-scenes government work of finding a way to combat the disease and discovering its origins.
As I previously said, this movie grabbed me from the word go but somehow managed to lose me within the first hour. I don’t mind talky films in the least, but at least give some new information or progression in the story. I got tired of hearing how “bad” the disease was again and again. The proper way to do fiction is to show and not tell. This movie never got into showing exactly how bad the state of the world was, it only told the audience how crucial the situation was. And this was all done from the comfort of someone’s office.
I can see how this movie was pitched.
Producer: “Mr Soderberg, we want you to film a large-scale virus outbreak movie!”
Soderberg: “Sounds great, but I’m about to retire from filmmaking so I don’t have too much time, let’s call my buddy Matt Damon.”
Producer: “I knew we could count on you! This is going to be an intense action-packed blockbuster!”
Soderberg: “Well not exactly… I called all of my movie star friends and they want to be in it too!”
Producer: “Well at this point we don’t have the budget to make a large-scale movie about an outbreak. It looks like our entire budget went to your friends who are in the movie for 5 minutes each…”
Soderberg: “Problem solved! We’ll just film the entire movie in a boardroom and the actors will just talk a lot. Critics will go crazy for it!”
If you can’t tell, I’m not crazy for this movie. I think I am going against the grain by saying it, but it was just too talky for the subject matter. Not only that, it wasn’t even great dialogue. There were many scenes that could be cut from the movie altogether. It reminded me of an 80’s movie because movies back then had dialogue and scenes which didn’t serve the character progression or the story at all. Instead the scenes just serve as filler. As a movie fan, I only want scenes of dialogue/exposition that are crucial to the story or make me believe in the actors’ portrayals of their character. Several character arcs in this movie could have been cut out entirely, such as Marion Cotillard and Kate Winslet’s stories.
I could keep going on about my disappointment that such great actors are attached this borefest but I’ll save that for the podcast. Please comment if you agree with me on this, I want to know I’m not alone.
Don’t be fooled by the intense Matt Damon poster, nothing that intense happens in this movie. Contagion gets a D.