johnlink ranks CONTAGION (2011)

Here is a movie I was certainly anticipating. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, this is a film about a major virus destroying millions of lives across the globe. It has a gallery of stars including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Marion Cotillard. And the supporting cast is solid as well, with names like Jennifer Ehle, Demetri Martin, Bryan Cranston, Elliot Gould, and Enrico Colantoni. I really wanted to get at this in the theater, but it never happened.

I watched CONTAGION (2011) on 6.12.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

My expectations were high and this movie couldn’t quite reach them. It’s not bad, not by a long shot. A ton of good work went into this film. But I was looking for something along the lines of SYRIANA for viruses. I wanted a heady, smart, diverse film which went into all the hard questions even if it knew they couldn’t be answered. CONTAGION does some of that, approaches certain aspects of a brilliant film, but ultimately doesn’t trust itself to go all the way there. That was a disappointing surprise to me, because Soderbergh is one of my favorite modern directors. I think he was handcuffed by the script before they even started shooting.

He does what he can. Filling a cast with stars like this can be a gimmick. But here, with multiple story-lines involving a multitude of people fighting the virus, or suffering from the virus (or both), being able to quickly identify where we have jumped to is important. We may not see a certain scientist for thirty minutes, but when he jumps back in and we hear Elliot Gould’s familiar voice, we know right where we are.

The acting in this is high quality. Matt Damon is solid as a quiet father who loses people close to him and is afraid to lose his daughter. Kate Winslet is her normal exceptional self as a front-line doctor. Marion Cotillard is effective playing a World Health Organization worker who travels to the origin of the virus to discover its mysteries. But the person who really stands out here is Laurence Fishburne. I’ve always thought of him as good, but mostly one note. Morpheus was a perfect role for his brash directness. Here has put on weight for the role. He is asked to be the calming voice of reason. He makes mistakes and must continue his job knowing he will pay for them. There are scenes in here where he absolutely reminded me of the presence James Earl Jones would bring to a movie. Strong, solid, but compassionate. For me, this is Fishburne’s greatest acting, even if playing a CDC doctor is not his best role.

But this movie has some issues. There are six major threads with groups of characters trying to do one thing or another. There are also several smaller threads. The story expands over the course of nearly a year. All of this gets wrapped up in under 105 minutes. Except it doesn’t get wrapped up, as the story ends with almost every major thread unresolved. I suppose that is the point, and it is one which I can get behind to a certain degree, since the threat of the virus doesn’t end with the vaccine, but the result is underwhelming.

Soderbergh ends the movie with day one. He does this for three reasons. First, it shows how man’s conquering of nature leads to disease. Secondly, it demonstrates how simply a small event can lead to massive disease. Lastly, it suggests that this is cyclical in nature and that the end of one crisis merely leads into the introduction of another. I don’t mind all of that. I understand that the point is the empty resolution. I just wish we had gotten a little further with these characters before we walked away from them. I suppose that, ultimately, is what my issue stands as. I just wanted more.

I mentioned SYRIANA earlier. One of the most impressive things about that movie is how quickly it moves. It respects its audience and expects them to keep up. CONTAGION slows to a halt sometimes to explain itself, with Kate Winslet having to stop and draw notes on the board to explain things to dumb government people (and, by extension, dumb audience people). I understand that this movie is making a point and that it seeks to educate. I don’t need this to be action-packed. But I’d love to be treated with more respect. Some of my favorite moments in this involve Martin and Ehle talking about the science of what they see. Do I retain it all? Hell no. But I can keep up and learn more by having to remain active in thinking rather than being talked down to. Much of the exposition in this movie is clunky, especially the stuff written around Kate Winslet’s character. Most of the bits written around Jennifer Ehle’s character works much more effectively.

The verdict on this is that it is worth seeing, if only for some of the performances. Most of the stuff about how the virus spreads has been done in every epidemic story which has come before (another reason we don’t need so much exposition), but CONTAGION still provides something of a new perspective to the proceedings with its international feel. This doesn’t go on any ‘greatest movies’ lists, but certainly worth checking out.





~ by johnlink00 on June 13, 2012.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks CONTAGION (2011)”

  1. I really enjoyed this one. The only part that detracted from my enjoyment was Jude Law’s character. This is not because it was poorly written or acted – Jude Law was outstanding as usual and the character is great. I couldn’t enjoy it because his character and the actions he takes are based on a real person named Andrew Wakefield. Knowing the real history behind that character, I got really irritated when he was on screen. That’s a tribute to how well Jude Law portrayed him, I suppose. The person I went to see this with said afterward that she noticed I was visibly angry whenever he was on screen.

  2. I explained my major issue with this movie to someone in this way: This is a story I really want to know. I believe it is a great story with a great cast and great performances. The actual story is about a foot long, and we saw maybe six or seven inches of it. I just left this movie feeling like it didn’t give me all I wanted.
    I can’t believe to mention Jude Law in my ranking. He does a great job in this. Very believable, very unlikable.

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