A mysterious virus causes a world-wide epidemic in Contagion, and a few dedicated doctors/scientists must solve the problem. But there isn’t much time, for this virus works faster than anything seen before, which sets the stage for what should have been a highly suspenseful viewing experience. However, because the film jumps around among so many characters and locations, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on. Fortunately, fine performances by actors like Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Chin Han, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, and Jennifer Ehle save the film from ending up as a total disaster of its own.
What caused the virus? How is it transmitted? Is there a cure for people infected? If so, how can it be distributed? What can be done to prevent widespread panic? Contagion takes its time answering these questions -- and sometimes the movie, directed by Steven Soderbergh (The Good German), seems more like a documentary than a fictional drama. By focusing on two groups of characters -- the people investigating the virus or dealing with how to stop it and the ordinary individuals suffering losses as a result of the virus -- Soderbergh, working from a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum), faced an almost impossible challenge. The results? Uneven at best. For example, just when we get drawn into the problems of a family man who has lost his wife and stepson to the virus, the story switches to a different character in another part of the world. And at the moment we begin to care about the work of a courageous epidemic investigator, the camera jumps someplace else. This type of storytelling, which goes on throughout the film, can frustrate viewers.
Still, Contagion gives us insight into the importance of organizations like the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. And it makes us more aware of how to protect ourselves from contagious diseases. Personally, I’m trying not to touch my face so many times during the day, thanks to dialogue spoken by Kate Winslet’s character.
Speaking of Winslet (The Reader), she projects dedication and commitment in a brilliant performance here as the epidemic investigator mentioned above. Other standouts in the cast include: Damon (Hereafter), who is very convincing as a husband and father worried about his family; Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes), practically unrecognizable as an annoying blogger; Cotillard (Public Enemies) as a WHO employee on a mission to Asia that ends up with unexpected consequences; Fishburne (Akeelah and the Bee) as a compassionate CDC executive; and Ehle (Paradise Road) as a daring researcher who risks her own life to save others.
Contagion comes across as an ambitious and well-meaning film. However, despite some fine performances, the movie fails to deliver the type of thrills and suspense promised in those exciting previews.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated “PG-13” for disturbing content and some language.)
For more information about Contagion, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.