What we liked
What we didn't
Great performances barely keep head above water in this overlong, dull and energy-free story about a virus that doesn’t waste time, acts with purpose and doesn’t fuck about. It’s sad when a film isn’t as good as its material – even moreso when it’s about a parasite.
There are three casualties in the opening ten minutes of Contagion, one of whom is a child. You care about none of these people and the fact that they’ve died seems to be purely a form to move on the story. But having no emotion is forgivable as the story’s barely getting the cogs into gear. However, as you don’t give a damn about the other 85 million or so deaths says something about Steven Soderbergh’s latest horror/thriller – it fills neither of those genres.
In Hong Kong, one person has begun to spread a disease that shows symptoms in a few hours and kills in a matter of days. It’s very contagious – just a handshake could finish you – and there’s no cure. We start on day two, as the first life is taken, and we follow the course of this disease through the days, months, even years of it’s life.
The main moral of this story is fear: the biggest killer. Fear made swine flu into the plague, so imagine what it could do for the plague itself? In fact, the first third of the film does such a good job of making the audience scared of their own germs that you’ll be sat there with your t-shirt over your mouth, hands on your lap and jumping out your chair every time you hear a cough from the far reaches of the auditorium. Depressingly, the tension fizzles out in minutes, and by halfway through I would happily have eaten an infected table leg if it meant not having to sit through the meandering 90 or so remaining minutes.
Dull? To a pointless degree. The film prides itself on its realism – from the disease to the inevitable vaccine to the mob reaction – but the whole reason we watch movies is because reality is dull. Watching this film may make you totally prepared for a virus outbreak but, if it’s anything to go by, I’m using the opportunity to paint my entire house and watch it dry, because frankly it’ll be a hell of a lot more fun.
Part of the problem is the number of stories. Matt Damon is recovering after the death of his wife Gwyneth Paltrow (who was also cheating on him, but we forget this straight away when it’s never mentioned again), Marion Cotillard is kidnapped when trying to find a cure (and disappears for TWO HOURS of the film and we couldn’t care less), Laurence Fishburne is spearheading the campaign to calm the media (and succeeds with depressing ease), Jude Law is a smarmy dickhead videoblogger (with one of the worst Australian accents you’ll ever hear) trying to get himself into the thick of the war between government and the people… it’s easy to drop names, and they’re all fantastic, but who cares when the story’s as muddled, multi-stranded and stretched as this?
With all the stories entirely separate – no smart intertwining, no wonderful twist – they’re all irrelevant and thin; disaster we don’t care about happening to people we don’t give a damn about in places we’ve never heard about doing things we don’t know how to do.