Sunday, February 5, 2012
Horror Film Review
First thing you need to know is that Contagion is like an Altman film: lots of famous actors and many intertwining story lines. We start with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) who's just back to Minneapolis from a Hong Kong business trip. She doesn't feel well and soon really doesn't feel well. Husband Mitch (Matt Damon) rushes her to the hospital where she promptly dies. The virus targets their young son next. The boy dies in his bed at home. This all happens in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the movie. Not what you'd call a giggle-fest.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gets involved in the form of Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet). Mears goes into the field to track down where the disease came from, gets sick, and dies. Cheever stays in Atlanta, trying to find a cure and liaising with Homeland Security and WHO (World Health Organization). WHO sends Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) to China, where she learns the effects of the virus firsthand. Rabble-rousing journalist turned famous blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) runs around blathering about government conspiracies and that a simple herb is the cure. The Krumwiede arc is the weakest since nothing really happens with him. I'm glad the film focuses mostly on Mitch, his surviving daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron), and Cheever at the CDC.
The film unfolds using the Day 2, Day 3, etc. format which works well. It shows a realistic progression of the virus as well as the disturbingly realistic regression of humanity. A vaccine is eventually developed and distributed but it's anticlimactic, and that's an odd recurring theme. Unlike films like Outbreak, Contagion relies solely on the performances of the disparate characters to move the action along. That is to say, the pace is not what you'd call speedy. I found myself drawn into the lives of the characters and not caring about the spreading epidemic or the millions dying horrible deaths. Not sure if that's a good thing or not, but despite the tepid suspense and glacial pacing you end up caring about these people and will be genuinely interested in their fate.
Acting: With all of these A-listers, the last thing to worry about is substandard performances. Damon as Mitch is particularly impressive.
Story: It's like Love, Actually...but with a population-killing virus.
Direction: Directing a film like this could have been like herding a pack of hyperactive cats, but Steven Soderbergh has had plenty experience in this area (he directed the Ocean's Eleven movies) and pulled it off.
Production Values: A-list actors, an A-list director, and an A-list budget of $60 million. 'Nuff said.
Gore/FX: There's some medical related ickiness but that's about it. I've seen worse on network TV.
Scares: Not that kind of movie.
Ending: Not every story thread wound up "happily ever after." We're left hanging with Dr. Orantes in China but not with Dr. Cheever and Mitch (in a good way). Oh, at the very, very end, we're finally shown how Mitch's wife became patient zero in Hong Kong. It involves bats and pigs. Trust me, it does makes sense.
Verdict: Should you see Contagion? If you're looking for straight-out horror, probably not. If you're looking for a really good movie with excellent acting, then yes, you should. Be warned, though...if you do, you'll find yourself stocking up on hand sanitizer.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Posted by Nate Dean at 5:32 PM